by: Paul Boyd Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A Charlotte-area pastor is accused of using his work as a preacher to target vulnerable women and abuse them.
Investigative reporter Paul Boyd found seven women who said there's another side to John Yelton.
YouTube videos of the preacher showed he is very energetic behind the pulpit, and Channel 9 confirmed that he spent time at a church in Gastonia, formerly known as Canaan Land Baptist Church.
Yelton said he's traveled throughout North Carolina, preaching "the word of God."
But April Justice and the other women said this preacher is actually a predator.
"It was a nightmare," Justice said.
Justice said she was approached by Yelton on Facebook a year ago. She said his page had photos showing he was an ordained pastor.
"He says, 'I'm a pastor,' and I was, like, OK. And he said, 'How would you feel like being a pastor's wife?'" Justice said.
Justice believes he used his preaching background to earn her trust.
"It made me trust him a lot more than it would an average guy," Justice said.
They married three months later.
"He asked me to marry him at the Bible book store in Hickory," Justice said.
The wedding in rural North Carolina was picture perfect.
Justice thought Yelton was an answer to her prayers, but three weeks after the wedding,she said his "true colors" started to show.
She said he abused her verbally and physically. A few months later, she said she walked in on him hitting her 9-year-old daughter.
"Hit her. Kicked her. She had bruises on her arms, legs, face and everything," Justice said.
April called police and said she took these photos of the bruising.
Yelton was arrested and charged with child abuse, false imprisonment and communicating threats.
Justice obtained a protective order and quickly discovered other women through social media who told similar stories about the pastor.
"I thought it was my fault. Until I found out he'd done it to all of them, and then I was, like, wow. This guy's a monster,’" Justice said.
A Whistleblower 9 investigation connected seven different women to Yelton, including another ex-wife. All of the women said he told them that they would make a great preacher's wife.
Sarah Hopper said she became involved with Yelton more than a decade ago when she was only 17 years old.
"I was young, and I was stupid," Hopper said.
They met through the former Canaan Land Baptist Church in Gastonia. She said Yelton was involved with the church's youth group at the time.
"When you get with him, it's like the devil's come out, and you can't get away," Hopper said.
She said they moved in together when she turned 18. Yelton is 6 years older.
"As he got drunk, the violence started," Hopper said.
She said the abuse continued when she became pregnant.
She said she finally left him a few years after giving birth to their daughter and has full custody of the child.
"He's not a preacher. Preacher's don't act like this," Hopper said.
Boyd tracked Yelton down the day of a child abuse hearing in Catawba County.
He denied using his preaching background to pick up women and take advantage of them.
"God knows I didn't. That's the only person I have to answer to is God," Yelton said.
The 36-year-old said he's no longer an active pastor and admitted his pastor certifications only came from a preacher friend who mentored him.
He denied ever hitting a woman.
As for his current child abuse charges, he spent 21 days in jail before posting bond but denies abusing the girl.
"I spanked her one time. Only thing I did. I took my finger and pulled her chin to look at me when I was trying to talk to her, because she would just never look me in the eye," Yelton said.
Yelton said any marks or bruising on the child were not caused by him.
His case has been delayed repeatedly, but several of the women said they will testify against him to prove a pattern of abuse.
Yelton told Channel 9 the women are conspiring against him, because they are jealous. He was at the courthouse with a new girlfriend.
He's due back in court Feb. 22.
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