Coots and another snake-handling pastor, Andrew Hamblin of the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., appeared in the National Geographic special, "Snake Salvation" last year -- Coots had been Hamblin's mentor. After the special aired, Tennessee authorities cracked down on Hamblin.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials seized 50 poisonous snakes, including rattlesnakes and copperheads, from Hamblin in November and cited him for illegally possessing dangerous animals. Hamblin claimed the state was violating his First Amendment religious rights and pleaded not guilty to the charges. The case was eventually dismissed.
Police said Hamblin was at Coots' church this weekend when the pastor was bit by the rattlesnake and later at his house when Coots died, but Hamblin declined to comment to ABC News about the incident.