He knelt in front of her parents and her church family and asked her to be his wife. She accepted and then launched into a whirl of wedding preparations -- finding the perfect ivory gown, glittering tiara and venue for the formal ceremony and reception.
But there would be no happy-ever-after for this 50-year-old, second-time bride. Barely three months after her February wedding, Brenda Scruggs got news that the charming pastor who'd won her heart had been arrested on a bigamy charge.
The Rev. Ledell Adrice Carr, had, in fact, been married to another woman since 1975. Though he hadn't divorced that wife of 32 years, in the decades since, court records show he had asked three other women for their hand in marriage. Scruggs was the most recent. Before her, there was Carole Ann Byrd in 1999; before that, Donna Marie Pantin in 1993; and before that, Gwendolyn Witherspoon Carr in 1975.
Byrd married the pastor in front of 150 guests at the St. Petersburg Women's Club. It wasn't until early this year -- after their divorce -- that she learned that the 1999 Snell Isle wedding had been a charade. She notified police. "I'm not a vicious woman. I'm not trying to scandalize him," the 57-year-old said. "I was victimized. I was lied to. I don't want to see this happen to other women."
Carr, 52, was arrested on Mother's Day at Solomon Temple Church of Christ inFlorida, where he is pastor, and was quickly free on bail. He declined to be interviewed, but his lawyer, Tamara Dudley, says the arrest was based on a misunderstanding.
Gwendolyn Witherspoon Carr, the woman whom Carr married in 1975, filed for divorce in North Carolina in 1987, the lawyer said. Reached by telephone in North Carolina, Gwendolyn Carr, 52, refused to discuss details of her marriage, except to say that she and Carr are still married and that she doesn't want to add to his troubles.
"He believed that the divorce had been finalized," Dudley said in a written statement. "He only recently became aware that the divorce had not been completed. We believe that Bishop Carr will be cleared of these allegations as he reasonably believed that he was free to remarry."
The St. Petersburg, Florida preacher eventually filed for divorce from Gwendolyn in January of this year. Four weeks later, with his long-standing marriage to Gwendolyn still intact, Carr donned coat and tails and married Scruggs in a religious ceremony in Richmond, Va.
Scruggs, a loan officer and also a pastor, said she met Carr when she traveled to St. Petersburg to conduct a revival at his church in August.
"He asked me to marry him in September," she said. "It was wonderful, because he appeared to be a man of God."
The wedding, with four bridesmaids and groomsmen and about 125 guests, was at a Sheraton hotel in Richmond. The flowing gown and train "cost me a good $700," Scruggs said. "My sister flew from Colorado Springs to be here. His brothers were in the wedding. He had other family members there," the mother of three said.
Shortly after the Valentine's week wedding, Scruggs packed up her furniture and set up house with her new husband in Brandon, FL. He had picked out a place in a gated community for them to rent, she said, adding that she paid $26,000 to lease the property for a year.
He was to pay her back monthly and they were going to put that money in a bank, she said. The honeymoon was brief.
"We hadn't made two months before he packed up all his things and moved out of the house---because I kept catching him in a lot of lies. He started staying out all night long," Scruggs said.
She learned about the bigamy charges from a St. Petersburg detective. "It blew my mind," she said. "I've never in my life met a lying pastor like that. He was supposed to be honest. He'd talked to my parents. He talked to my children. He talked to my siblings, my church and friends, and his thing was that he was going to take care of me and I didn't have to worry about a thing. That everything was going to be good."
Carole Ann Byrd Carr, the St. Petersburg woman the pastor married before Scruggs, said he is a very likable person. "You can't not like the man, and he said the right things," she said. He is a charismatic preacher, she added.
According to Carole Ann Byrd Carr, her former husband moved to St. Petersburg about 10 years ago from Jacksonville and established Bethlehem Temple Church of Christ. He later changed the name of the tiny congregation to Solomon Temple Church of Christ.
Carole Ann Byrd Carr, who once owned an Allstate agency, said she met the pastor when he walked into her office to buy insurance. She married him a year later wearing "a very elaborate ivory dress." They were divorced last summer, almost seven years to the day of their fashionable wedding.
She said Carr's son with Gwendolyn was at the wedding. She didn't know then that her new husband had been married to the young man's mother. The only marriage Carr mentioned to her before their August 1999 wedding was the one to a Jacksonville woman named Donna Marie Pantin, she said.
Pantin, 38, who is originally from Trinidad, didn't want to discuss her 1993 marriage to Carr. She said she wanted to keep the past behind her.
Bigamy isn't uncommon, said Bruce Jacob, a professor of criminal law at Stetson University College of Law. "Sometimes, it's a kind of a technical thing when a person might think they have a valid divorce," Jacob said.
But, he added, "There are people out there that deliberately marry more than one woman and shuttle back and forth, or they marry one and leave her and marry again, without bothering to get a divorce."
Bill Loughery, division director at the state attorney's office, said Carr's case is still being investigated. In his experience, Loughery said, bigamy is unusual. It's a third-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years, he said. "The reality is, unless you have a bad criminal history, you're probably going to get probation," he said.
Carr has one previous arrest, in 2003, for an insufficient funds check.
By Waveney Ann Moore of The St. Petersburg Times.