Snake handler loses serpents before Tenn. court

8:22 am | February 27, 2013

KNOXVILLE — A snake-handling Kentucky preacher has gone back home from a Tennessee courtroom without his venomous serpents.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Jamie Coots pleaded guilty Monday to illegally having poisonous snakes that were confiscated after a traffic stop in Knox County, Tenn., on Jan. 31.

Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of transporting the snakes and wildlife officials agreed to give back the boxes Coots was using to carry the snakes from Alabama to his Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church in Middlesboro, Ky.

Coots will be on unsupervised probation for a year.

Coots’ lawyer, Christopher H. Jones of Chattanooga, said Coots wanted to avoid going through a long legal process but still believes Tennessee’s law barring him from transporting the snakes on his way back to Middlesboro is unconstitutional.

“He legally acquired them in Alabama,” Jones said. “He legally possessed them in Kentucky.”

The three rattlesnakes and two copperheads found in his car were taken to a zoo in Sevierville, Tenn. Agent Joe Durnin of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said only zoos or educational institutions with a permit can have poisonous snakes under Tennesssee law.

Coots handles snakes as part of worship services. He bought the five snakes in Eastaboga, Ala., for $800 to use in his religious services.

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