LAS VEGAS (AP) — A church group's late-night food fix at a Las Vegas pub last year devolved into a deadly fight that devastated two families of faith.
Marie Ellingson, who was married to Link Ellingson for 29 years, said she watched her once-gregarious husband suffer through brain surgeries, debilitating strokes and a coma for six months before he died of hemorrhaging just before Christmas.
Youth pastor Robert Lynn Cox, who was accused of murder in the case, was arrested at his church in Northern California, spent six days in a largely solitary county jail cell where he slept on the floor, and could be disqualified from adopting children with his wife.
A judge on Wednesday dismissed a murder charge against Cox, 35, as prosecutors revealed they are taking a different route — bringing the case before a grand jury. It's unclear when the grand jury, whose proceedings are secret, will decide whether or not to indict Cox in the death of Ellingson, 55.
What is also unclear is what happened outside the Four Kegs pub on June 13, 2013.
Cox, his family and some interns from Place of Refuge church were on their way to Texas when they made a three-day stop in Las Vegas to do community service and ministry activities with a partner church. After hearing about Four Kegs' famed Stromboli on the Food Network, Cox said, they stopped there for a late-night dinner.
Group members said they were in the parking lot when Ellingson approached, threatened and assaulted them.
"He said, 'Hey girlfriend, you want to 'F' with me?'" witness Kelli Lane told KTXL-TV. "And Rob was immediately like, "Oh my gosh, no,' backed up, 'I have kids here,' said no. And the man said, "Well I'm coming to 'F' with you.'"
According to witnesses in the group, Cox grabbed Ellingson and fell with him to the ground.
Ellingson hit his head on the pavement and went unconscious. When he died six months later at a hospital, the coroner ruled the case a homicide.
Cox initially said he punched Ellingson in the face but later described grabbing Ellingson's waist and falling to the ground with him, according to a Las Vegas police report.
Marie Ellingson, who wasn't at the scene, described "a wonderful husband" who rescued animals, attended church with her and was the "most giving guy I've ever had in my life." Some of the things he's accused of saying, Marie Ellingson said, "are not even in his vocabulary."
She said it's been difficult to follow coverage of the case and see reaction toward her husband.
"Unfortunately, it's been making me very sad. I'm a Christian myself," Marie Ellingson said. "It's discouraging to see a Christian church and to see these horrible things (they're saying)."
Cox said he was told no charges would be filed in the case and was "blindsided" when police showed up with a fugitive warrant and arrested him in early June. He denies he changed his account of the confrontation. Friends wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Bring Justice" joined him in court.
"There's been a ton of support," Cox said. "They feel it's an injustice."
Meanwhile, Marie Ellingson said members of her own congregation, Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, have helped her and offered a listening ear amid her grief.
"I just really wish that the truth comes out, and that things are taken care of fairly and that Link is looked at in a good light," she said. "God is a judge, not me."