SON SAYS PARENTS DID NOT ABUSE HIS `SISTER'

Date: 2000-03-17

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

A young woman's scars were caused by accidents and not by the minister and his wife who raised her, one of their children testified Thursday.

David Combs, 21, testified in support of his parents, Rev. Joseph and Evangeline Combs. The couple are charged with taking Esther Combs from an orphanage in 1978 and raising her as the family's servant while repeatedly abusing her.

Joseph Combs also is charged with rape. He faces 150 years in prison if convicted. Mrs. Combs, also charged with child abuse, faces nearly 100 years in prison.

David Combs said his parents disciplined all the children - one adopted, Esther and four biological - by taking away their privileges or making them write on a chalkboard. He said his father had spanked him.

He said his parents never beat Esther with baseball bats, pulled out chunks of her flesh with pliers or whipped her with hoses - a few of the numerous alleged incidents Esther testified about last week. David Combs said his father never forced her to engage in sex acts.

David Combs said Esther's chin was scarred after she fell on glass, and the scars on her forehead were "probably from playing outside." He said Esther frequently bit her lips and caused the scars around her mouth. He said he once accidentally hit Esther and caused a black eye.

David Combs said he was unaware of numerous scars on Esther's back, shoulders and legs or how they got there. He said the children frequently played roughly in the parking lot of the now-defunct Emmanuel Baptist Church in Bristol, where Joseph Combs became pastor in 1989.

David Combs said one day Esther burned her own hands on a stove while joking with her siblings and then denied being hurt.

"I told her she was crazy," he testified.

He acknowledged that his parents never took her to a doctor while they lived in Tennessee. But he said Esther had received medical treatment for previous injuries in Indiana, Florida and California.

David Combs, who referred to Esther as "my sister" during his testimony, said the children often went to a nearby park and to stores without their parents. He denied that Esther was kept isolated, saying she talked on the phone to two friends she met on the Internet.

David Combs said all the children rotated household chores.

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