An elderly parishioner who regularly attended services at Life Tabernacle Church in Central, La. that has made national headlines for defying social-distancing orders died from coronavirus complications, according to a coroner’s report.
Life Tabernacle’s Pastor Tony Spell, who has come under criticism for repeatedly violating an order by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards that bans gatherings of more than 10 people, disputes the coroner’s findings, saying the man died of another medical condition.
“That is a lie,” Spell said of the coroner’s findings when WAFB-9 reached him by phone Thursday.
Spell has held several church services with hundreds of people in attendance in defiance of the governor’s order that was put in place last month.
Last month, police filed six misdemeanor charges against Spell, accusing him of violating the governor’s executive order.
Spell described the man, who died earlier this week, as a “great member of the church” and one of his “right hand men.”
The coroner’s report lists the man’s cause of death as “acute respiratory distress syndrome, 2nd pneumonia, 2nd COVID-19,” East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner William ‘Beau’ Clark said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
The news outlet identified the man as 78-year-old Harold Orillion, an usher at the church.
The pastor declined to say when the man last attended a service at the church.
A lawyer for Pastor Spell is currently hospitalized with COVID-19 after attending an April 2 news conference at the church as well as an April 5 church service there.
Spell says there is no way of knowing where the lawyer contracted the virus.
The pastor has come under fire for a series of controversial statements on the pandemic, including telling TMZ that true Christians do not mind dying from the virus but from “fear living in fear, cowardice of their convictions.” Spell urged followers to defy public health lockdowns and attend church service even if their lives are in danger, saying “Death is a welcomed friend.”