NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Firm Beliefs

NewsChannel 5, May 19, 2004

A judge has ruled there is enough evidence to move forward with a murder case against two parents from a Brentwood-based church. The two are charged with the beating death of their young son. Investigators say the Remnant Fellowship's firm beliefs about disciplining children may have been a factor in the boy's death.

Joseph and Sonya Smith entered the Atlanta-area courtroom. For the first time since they were arrested in December, the couple faced a judge about the alleged beating death of their 8-year-old son, Josef.

"Josef Smith, the 8-year-old child, had numerous marks to his arms, legs, back, buttocks, what appeared to be a new wound to the side of his head," testified Cobb County police detective David Schweizer.

The Smiths are members of the Brentwood-based Remnant Fellowship. It's a church started by Christian diet guru Gwen Shamblin, who has continued to defend the Smiths.

"The child ran into a banister," Shamblin said during an interview with NewsChannel 5.

But, with Shamblin and other Remnant leaders looking on, detective David Schweizer testified the Smiths admitted they repeatedly beat their son with glue sticks.

It's an idea that our investigation discovered originated inside Remnant Fellowship.

"On one occasion Sonya Smith advised me that she struck Josef with a glue stick on his buttocks and actually saw blood coming through his underwear," Schweizer added.

Yet, the investigator said, the couple appeared unfazed by young Josef's injuries. Reports noted they felt it was "just a part of discipline."

"We showed photos during our interview -- and these were photos from the autopsy -- that they basically pointed to specific injuries and said that I caused this, I remember this, I've seen this," Schweizer testified.

As to the role that the religion played in little Josef's death, that will have to wait for another day of judgment.

The judge ruled the Smiths could be released on bond while they wait for investigators to present the case to a grand jury.

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