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Minister spared jail for venomous snakes

Feb. 26, 2013 at 2:13 PM

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., Feb. 26 (UPI) -- A Kentucky minister who drove through Tennessee with newly purchased venomous snakes was given a year's probation for having them.

Jamie Coots also lost the snakes, three rattlesnakes and two copperheads, the Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel reported. Agents for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said the boxes that held the snakes will be returned.

Coots pleaded guilty Monday in Knox County. The snakes were discovered in January when he was pulled over for having windows with too dark a tint while he drove from Alabama, where he bought the snakes, to Kentucky.

Snake handling, practiced by a few Pentecostal churches is illegal everywhere except West Virginia. Coots, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Ky., was arrested in 2008 after investigators discovered 74 snakes in his home.

In Tennessee, only institutions with permits can own venomous snakes. In Kentucky, owning them is legal but handling or displaying them at any time that puts the public at risk is banned.

Christopher H. Jones of Chattanooga, Coots' lawyer, said the pastor believes seizing the snakes was unconstitutional.

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

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