MINISTERS SUPPORT COUPLE IN ALLEGED ABUSE CASE

Date: 1998-11-26

Post-Tribune (IN)
Author: Duncan Mansfield, Associated Press Writer

Several Baptist ministers attended a brief court appearance Wednesday to support a former pastor and his wife who have been charged with abusing a woman they took from a Valparaiso children's home as an infant.

"The man is not guilty of any of the things that they have charged him with here," Aaron P. Welch, a minister from Charleston, S.C., said about Joseph Combs, 50, of Bristol. "He is a man of impeccable character."

Combs, pastor of the defunct Emmanuel Baptist Church, is accused with his wife, Evangeline Combs, 49, of kidnapping the girl and physically abusing her for two decades. She claims she was treated as a family servant. Combs also is accused of raping the woman, who recently turned 21.

"Shocked. We are shocked at the charges," said Jay Hubbard, a minister from Belpre, Ohio, who has known Joseph Combs since the defendant taught him theology at Hyles Anderson College in Schererville some 20 years ago.

Hubbard, Welch and seven other ministers and friends rose from their back-row seats in the tiny Sullivan County Circuit courtroom as Evangeline Combs entered, dressed in a black-and-white striped jail suit and carrying a Bible.

She and her husband said little during the court appearance. Kingsport lawyer Rick Spivey was appointed to represent Joseph Combs and Assistant Public Defender Jim Harrison was picked to represent Evangeline Combs.

Circuit Court Judge Jerry Beck will arraign the couple Dec. 14 and consider a motion to reduce Evangeline Combs' bond. Arrested two weeks ago, both are being held on $250,000 bond.

Welch, who has known Joseph Combs for 20 years and visited the Combses' home often, suggested the woman is lying. "The girl obviously has mental problems and she is disturbed," Welch told a reporter outside the courtroom. There was no testimony during the hearing.

The woman, who is now living in another state, alleges in a federal lawsuit filed in Indiana that she was scarred and disfigured by the Combses.

"I don't remember the large amount of scarring they say that she had," Welch said. "But I asked the (Combs) kids and they told me (she) would get mad and throw temper tantrums and fits and she would scratch herself."

Welch said he does remember seeing a scar on the girl's lip. The Combs children told him she injured herself on a TV table.

Authorities say the Combses took the alleged victim when she was 4-months-old from Baptist Children's Home in Valparaiso under the pretense of adopting her. But they never completed the process.

The Combses have four biological children, ages 12 to 20, and a 21-year-old son they adopted.

Combs' 26-year-old brother, Tim Combs of Charlotte, N.C., remembers the children were always "smiling and happy," including the alleged victim. As for his older brother, Combs said, "He has always been a loving person who has worked tirelessly for people."

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