EX-PASTOR, WIFE SEEKING PRIVATE LEGAL COUNSEL; HEARING SET FOR NOV. 25

Date: 1998-11-14

Commercial Appeal, The (Memphis, TN)
Author: The Associated Press

A former minister and his wife said Friday they are trying to get private attorneys to defend them on accusations they abused a woman after taking her from an Indiana children's home as an infant.

Circuit Court Judge Jerry Beck set a Nov. 25 hearing for the couple - Joseph Combs, 50, and Evangeline Combs, 49, both of Bristol.

The two are facing charges of kidnapping, child abuse and aggravated assault. Combs, pastor of the now-defunct Emmanuel Baptist Church, also is accused of raping the woman, who turns 21 on Monday. Authorities say the woman was treated as a family servant and abused for two decades.

"Her body tells the story," said Gregg Herman, a Farmington Hills, Mich., attorney representing the woman. He said she had broken bones that were never properly set and cuts that were never stitched up.

He would not give details about her and the alleged crimes, citing the criminal case against the Combses and the need to protect the woman as she heals emotionally and physically.

"There's obviously evidence of horrific abuse. She's scarred and disfigured," Herman said. He filed a federal civil lawsuit on the woman's behalf on Friday in Indiana.

The Combses' 20-year-old son, David, has denied the charges. In addition to the alleged victim, the couple had an adopted 21-year-old son and four biological children ranging in age from 12 to 20.

David Combs and other relatives and friends were in the courtroom Friday during the 10-minute hearing but would not comment.

Rev. Aaron P. Welch of Charleston, S.C., a friend of the Combses, described the alleged victim as "emotionally troubled" and denied the allegations.

"I believe they are false," Welch told a reporter. "It's just a sad situation."

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

The Combses, dressed in black and white striped prison uniforms, sat together at the defense table during the hearing. Both have been jailed on $250,000 bond since they were arrested last week.

Mrs. Combs spoke to her court-apppointed attorney but not directly to the judge. Asst. Public Defender Jim Harrison said Mrs. Combs told him she wants to try to get a private attorney to take her case.

Combs had a private attorney appointed to him earlier this week, but the attorney was not there. Combs said another attorney he is hiring could not be there because of a traffic accident.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the alleged victim say the civil lawsuit filed in federal court in Hammond, Ind., is against the Combses and the adoption agency, Baptist Children's Home and Family Ministry.

Herman and Jeffrey Thomas, the woman's other attorney, said they are trying to shelter the woman from the publicity the case has gotten as she recovers emotionally and physically.

Police say the Combses allowed the woman to have only very limited contact with people outside the family. Her attorneys and police have said the woman has not been educated and cannot read or write. The Combses were home-schooling her.

Herman said the woman has "contacts" in Michigan, but he would not disclose her whereabouts. Prosecutor Greeley Wells said she is living in another state with friends. The woman was not present for the hearing.

Herman and Thomas declined requests to allow the woman to be interviewed.

"Her feelings are that she wants to see them (the Combses) prosecuted," Herman said.

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