Ex-girlfriend of pastor charged with arson: 'he wants to kill me'

Ex-girlfriend of pastor charged with arson: 'he wants to kill me'

Credit: ABC News

Sarah Nottingham, whose ex-boyfriend is accused of hiring transients to throw a Molotov cocktail into her home, sat down for an interview with ABC News' "20/20".

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by Lynn Redmond, Brooke, Stangeland and Alexa Valiente

WHAS11.com

Posted on April 26, 2014 at 8:16 AM

(ABC News) - A California woman, whose ex-boyfriend is accused of hiring transients to throw a Molotov cocktail into her home, said she believes he wanted her dead.

“It definitely was clear to me that he's not just out to hurt me, but he wants to kill me,” Sarah Nottingham told ABC News’ “20/20.”

On Jan. 9, Nottingham said a Molotov cocktail crashed through her home as she and her family slept. Shortly after, police stopped a suspicious truck and arrested three transients, who, after questioning, confessed they were hired by Nottingham’s ex-boyfriend, Mark Lewis.

Lewis, the pastor of Independent Fellowship Baptist Church in Vacaville, Calif., denied any involvement in the incident to local reporters. He is currently awaiting trial on arson and fraud charges. The three transients, who say they were staying at the pastor’s church, all pleaded not guilty.

Nottingham first met Lewis at his church.

“To see somebody that was that excited for God and to have that much enthusiasm ... just, you know, it was exciting,” Nottingham said.

She was a Sunday school teacher at the church and was married by Lewis. But her marriage fell apart after two and a half years, and she left the church. In 2011, when Lewis’ wife, Joanna Lewis, was found dead of an apparent suicide, Nottingham said Lewis called her within 24 hours.

“He was crying and he asked me if I had heard what happened,” said Nottingham. “And I told him, ‘Yes.’”

The two, according to Nottingham, eventually became secret lovers.

“He worried about his [church],” Nottingham said. “‘If they find out I’m dating the ex of one of my, you know, parishioners here, I’m going to lose the church.’”

But Lewis instead lost Nottingham, who said she discovered he was sending inappropriate text messages to female parishioners, including 17-year-old Desiree Nye, who had been a member of the church since age 5.

“At first, I always looked at him like a dad,” Nye told “20/20.” “And then, I was more confused because then he would send me something ... inappropriate ... like a picture of him with nothing on.”

Nye said she asked Lewis to stop sending the photographs and Nottingham closed the door on their relationship for good.

“You are sick, twisted and manipulative. I don't want to see your face again,” Nottingham recalled saying in an email to Lewis.

Nottingham said Lewis refused to let her go, sending text messages and emails obtained by "20/20."

“I don’t want to become a crazy person,” “It’s on now,” and “Let your parents know it’s on,” Lewis wrote.

“He cannot stand when something's out of his control," Nottingham said. "That's when you can see his temper just flare up.”

Nottingham turned to domestic violence peer counselor Patricia Hunter, who was the mother of Lewis’ deceased wife. Hunter warned Nottingham to call the police and cut off all ties with Lewis.

“I was dumb enough to believe in your games,” Nottingham said in a text to Lewis. “You're not welcome at my house, and I don't want to see your face again."

At this point, Nottingham said, the pastor launched a series of attacks on her and her family. She found her car windshield smashed and, a few days later, neighbors came to her door to tell her that her bushes were on fire. The Pastor denied to police that he was involved in these incidents. Then came the night the Molotov cocktail was thrown into Nottingham’s home and burned the window blinds.

With Lewis behind bars and awaiting trial, the sheriff’s department has officially reopened the investigation into his wife’s death. After years of concerns for their daughter, the Hunter family feels like Joanna’s voice is finally being heard.

“He's been hiding behind the veil of being a pastor and religion, and using that to manipulate minds,” Joseph Hunter Jr., Joanna Lewis’ brother, told “20/20.” “Obviously, these new charges helped bring my sister's story to light because they started to dig now.”

Joanna Lewis’ family always believed their estranged son-in-law played a role in her death. They said Joanna Lewis died after years of isolation from her family. She repeatedly applied for protective orders documenting years of abuse before they were married, including two hospital visits for beatings.

In one protective order petition obtained by "20/20" Joanna said, “I was hung up on the wall, choked, slapped, punched, kicked, thrown and badly beaten up by Mark.”

Her body was found by Mark Lewis hanging in a closet with her feet touching the ground. Mark Lewis said he was playing basketball outside with a friend before the discovery. According to police reports, instead of cutting her down or calling 911, Mark Lewis called a friend.

Nottingham's subsequent claims “brought back all of the memories of what Joanna went through and what we went through,” Patricia Hunter said. “I was not surprised by it.”

Like the Hunters, Nottingham had her own suspicions about the circumstances of Joanna Lewis’ death, telling "20/20," “My initial thought, because I had heard it was suicide, was that he did something to her.”

She worried she would end up the same way.

“I knew that ... it [was] definitely not healthy, and it wasn't going to end well,” Nottingham said. “I was scared, at that point, to break things off with him. I didn't know how.”

The Hunter family is encouraged by the reopening of their daughter’s case.

“It's her saying, 'You don't understand. Don't take it for what it appears to be,'" Patricia Hunger said. "And we feel that voice is beginning to be heard.”

Mark Lewis declined several requests from "20/20" for an interview.

For more on this story, be sure to check out ABC News.

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