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MANTECA – A local youth pastor arrested on an outstanding warrant for murder in Las Vegas said he is innocent and acted in self-defense.

Robert Cox spoke over the phone from behind the walls of San Joaquin County Jail, where he's been since Tuesday.

"I was blindsided and totally shocked," Cox said.

The murder charge stems from an incident last June. Cox, a youth minister for The Place of Refuge Church in Manteca, was with his wife and about 20 interns in Las Vegas on a ministry trip.

They had dinner at the Four Kegs Sports Pub when Cox said another man at the restaurant, Link Ellingson, started threatening the group out of the blue.

Cox said he had to protect his group.

"When somebody says they are going 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..." Cox described.

Cox said he grabbed Ellingson by the waist and both of them fell down.

But court documents and the police report state that Cox punched Ellingson in the head, leaving him with a severe brain injury as seen in pictures shared by Ellingson's niece, Gina Hardy. Ellingson died in December.

"I've never had such heartbreak," Hardy described.

"No, I did not throw a punch," Cox said.

Cox's wife, Julie, gave News10 a picture of her husband showing what she says are choke marks on Cox's neck from that night.

His wife says she fought to amend the police report back then but got nowhere. She thought they were in the clear when she got a letter from the Clark County District Attorney's office in October stating that charges wouldn't be filed. Now, they are fighting the charge.

His lawyer posted a $100,000 bail for him and they're waiting for him to be released from jail.

Cox has a court hearing on Monday where his family hopes he will be released on bail.

The Clark County District Attorney's Office is not commenting on the case.

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