JUDGE CALLS RECESS IN TENN. ABUSE TRIAL AGAINST MINISTER AND WIFE

Date: 2000-03-09

The Commercial Appeal
Author: The Associated Press

Testimony in the abuse case of a former minister and his wife was halted abruptly Wednesday after graphic pictures of the alleged victim's scars led to uncontrolled sobbing in the courtroom.

Esther Combs cried during her afternoon testimony against Rev. Joseph Combs and Evangeline Combs, who are charged with kidnapping her from an Indiana orphanage and abusing her for two decades. Joseph Combs also faces eight counts of rape.

As a sobbing Esther testified that Mrs. Combs burned her inner thighs with a hot curling iron, and pictures of the scars were shown on a large screen, Joseph Combs also was crying. Sullivan County Circuit Judge Jerry Beck then called a recess.

Combs, who showed no emotion when Esther gave the same testimony earlier Wednesday without the jury present, then left the courtroom and complained of heart palpitations. Paramedics treated him at the courthouse about 20 minutes before transporting him to a hospital.

Combs also complained of heart problems during jury selection last week and was treated at the courthouse.

Esther, now 22, also testified Wednesday that Joseph Combs forced her to perform oral sex on him several times when she was 11 and a teenager. One time she refused after telling him the Bible said it was wrong, but "he said it was OK because I was his adopted daughter, not his biological daughter," Esther testified.

The woman said she's been abused while living in Indiana, Florida and other states while the Combses were traveling evangelists.

"I had black eyes almost all the time," she said.

The woman, who has changed her name and lives in another state, also said when she entered puberty and experienced her first monthly cycle, Mrs. Combs told her it was a curse from God for engaging in sex acts with Combs.

The judge said he would allow some statements about abuse, but would not permit testimony about alleged sex acts in other states.

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