CHILDREN TESTIFY TO SUPPORT PARENTS ACCUSED OF ABUSE

Date: 2000-03-18

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

Two more children of a couple charged with abusing a girl they raised as their daughter insisted Friday the charges are unfounded, but they couldn't explain the more than 400 scars on the body of Esther Combs.

Cindy Combs, 20, and Jimmy Combs, 22, testified on behalf of their parents. Rev. Joseph Combs and his wife, Evangeline, are charged with taking Esther from an Indiana orphanage when she was a baby but failing to adopt her, then raising her as a servant and repeatedly abusing her.

Joseph Combs, also charged with rape, faces 150 years in prison if convicted; Evangeline Combs nearly 100 years.

Cindy Combs testified that she remembered a few times Esther was injured: cutting her chin after running into a television, burning her hands while cooking, being scratched by the family cats. Cindy Combs said Esther scratched her legs after being bitten by mosquitoes.

Jimmy Combs testified that Esther fell a few times while all six Combs children played baseball in the parking lot of the now-defunct Emmanuel Baptist Church in Bristol, where Joseph Combs was hired as pastor in 1989.

During cross-examination, Jimmy Combs initially declined to look at two drawings depicting hundreds of scars on the young woman's body. He said he had never seen Esther undressed, "even if it was a drawing." After being required to view the drawings, he said he did not know what caused the scars.

"Just the ones I pointed out (earlier) - scrapes on her knees," he said.

He also testified that Esther once pulled a child in a wagon by putting a rope around her own neck, causing burns.

Last week Esther, now 22 and living in another state under a different name, testified that Joseph Combs beat her with a rope, tied it around her neck and lifted her off the ground, causing her to faint.

She also testified last week that Mrs. Combs beat her with baseball bats, burned her with a curling iron and pulled out chunks of her flesh with pliers. Esther testified that Combs forced her to engage in sex acts.

Both Jimmy and Cindy Combs testified Friday that they had never seen Esther being beaten or molested. They said Esther never told them she was being abused or asked for help.

Their testimony was similar to that of their brother David Combs, 21, who testified Thursday that the Combses punished the children by taking away privileges but never beat them.

The two other Combs children, both teenagers, are ex-pected to testify Monday.

Jimmy and Cindy Combs also testified that Esther acted happy the day before she drank antifreeze in a February 1997 suicide attempt.

Esther testified last week that after nearly two decades of abuse, she wanted to die. But she was too scared to admit she had been abused when doctors asked about the scars on her body, she said. Esther made the allegations a year later, and the Combses were indicted in November 1998.

Esther told jurors she was forced to cook and clean for the family, was never allowed out of their sight and was required to wear long dresses and long-sleeve shirts covering her injuries.

Both Jimmy and Cindy Combs denied that Esther had been singled out. They said all children helped cook and clean, could wear what they wanted and often played in parks and went to stores without their parents.

When shown a family photo in which all children except Esther appeared to be wearing shorts, Cindy Combs said all the girls in the family wore culottes (wide-legged pants that resemble skirts). Esther's clothes came to her ankles because she was thinner than the Combses' two biological daughters, Cindy said.

"We were heavier, and it was hard to find ones that fit," she said.

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