Robert Cox, a Manteca, California, youth pastor who was charged with the murder of a man while on a church trip in Las Vegas last year, maintained his innocence during a recent jailhouse interview as his church family continues to push to get him out of jail.
"I was blindsided and totally shocked," said Cox in the telephone interview from the San Joaquin County Jail with ABC News10.
Cox, who works as worship and youth pastor at The Place of Refuge Church in Manteca, represents one half of the church's pastoral team, according to the church's website. His father-in-law, Mike Dillman, is the senior pastor.
The youth pastor was reportedly with his wife, Julie, and about 20 interns last June on a ministry trip to Las Vegas when they stopped to get dinner at a the Four Kegs Sports Pub. After the group finished their meal and started a conversation they were reportedly attacked by Link Ellingson, the man Cox is accused of murdering.
"When somebody says they are going [to] f**ing kill me, and they attack me and choke me and punch me in the face and go after my students and give a student a concussion ..." explained the youth pastor about his decision to take action against Ellingson.
Cox said he grabbed Ellingson by the waist to stop the attack and they both fell to the ground. He insists he never threw a punch at Ellingson.
"No, I did not throw a punch," said Cox.
In a statement on his church's website, Cox's pastor and father-in-law, Mike Dillman, explains that Cox pushed Ellingson in self-defense and broke his finger in the process.
"In self-defense and in an effort to protect the interns, Rob used his weight to push the man back causing him to fall and he hit his head on the concrete. Rob and the interns were treated at the local hospital, Rob for a broken finger and two of the interns for concussions," noted Dillman.
"The man was severely injured requiring brain surgery, and an extensive stay in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility. After about six months the man passed away," he added.
Court documents, however, give a different account of the fight and suggests that the youth pastor did punch Ellingson in the head causing severe injury, according to Ellingson's niece, Gina Hardy.
"I've never had such heartbreak," she told ABC News10.
The pastor's lawyer has already posted a $100,000 bail and is expecting to hear from the local court on Monday to see whether or not he can be released.
The church's most recent post on its Facebook page noted: "You are welcome to email the DA in Clark County. Many have asked if they could send an endorsement of Rob or your thoughts on the injustice of this murder charge. Be my guest. Be respectful, don't preach, appeal for common sense. HELLO! IT WAS SELF DEFENSE! DAInfo@clarkcountyDA.com Be my guest. Thank You."