Robert Cox, 35, was released on $100,000 bail Monday after being charged in connection with a June 2013 fight.
Cox, a married father of two, was leading a ministry trip last year and passing through Las Vegas when his group stopped for a late-night dinner at a sports bar. Witnesses said they were in the parking lot when 55-year-old businessman Link Ellingson approached the group, aggressively starting a fight.
Cox pushed Ellingson down to protect his parishioners, witnesses said.
“Our pastor Rob defended his family and he acted in self-defense and really saved my life,” said Kelli Lane, who witnessed the incident.
Ellingson hit his head on the pavement, subsequently slipping into a coma. He died six months later, leaving his family devastated.
“I’ve never had such heartbreak that I had that day,” said his niece, Gina Hardy.
Julie Cox, the pastor’s wife, said he never meant to hurt Ellingson.
“I believe wholeheartedly that my husband is innocent,” she said.
But investigators aren’t buying it. The coroner ruled the death a homicide, with prosecutors alleging in court documents that Cox actually hit the man “with premeditation and deliberation ... punching ... Link Ellingson in the face.”
ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams said the case will hinge on intent and necessity.
“This is a self-defense case, and so the crucial questions are going to be: Was the victim actually the aggressor? And did the defendant need to do what he did to protect himself?” Abrams said.