PASTOR, WIFE CLEARED OF 4 ABUSE CHARGES

Date: 2000-03-23

The Commercial Appeal
Author: Angela K. Brown The Associated Press

A judge Wednesday dismissed four charges in the 19-count indictment of a Baptist minister and his wife on trial for abusing a girl raised as their daughter.

Sullivan County Circuit Judge Jerry Beck made the ruling after defense attorneys for Rev. Joseph Combs and his wife, Evangeline, and prosecutors rested their cases and before closing arguments.

Beck said four charges - aggravated assault against both Combses, aggravated assault against Mrs. Combs and two assaults against Mrs. Combs - were filed after the statute of limitations expired.

Beck refused to dismiss the seven rape counts and one aggravated rape count against Combs, who was pastor of the now-defunct Emmanuel Baptist Church in Bristol, and the child abuse charges against Mrs. Combs.

Beck also refused to dismiss the kidnapping charge against the Combses, who took Esther Combs from an Indiana orphanage in 1978 but failed to adopt her. Beck said it was an unusual case, but the state had shown sufficient evidence that Esther was confined.

"One thing that has been established again and again in this trial . . . for practically every act Esther purported was made by Joseph and Evangeline Combs, she has a scar or a wound associated with it," the judge said.

Esther testified earlier that Evangeline Combs beat her with baseball bats, burned her with a curling iron and pulled out chunks of her flesh with pliers. Esther said Joseph Combs whipped her and forced her to engage in sex acts.

Joseph Combs tearfully denied the charges in testimony Tuesday. He said he loved Esther and is bewildered by her accusations.

The woman, now 22, moved to Michigan after a suicide attempt and is living under an assumed name.

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