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Couple sentenced for abusing girl they took from orphanage


Associated Press Archive

Dateline: BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn.

A former minister was sentenced to 114 years in prison Tuesday and his wife was given 65 years for kidnapping and abusing a girl they took from an orphanage and raised as a servant.

The Rev. Joseph Combs, 51, and Evangeline Combs, 50, who were convicted last month, took the child from the orphanage in Indiana in 1978 but never adopted her.

The victim, Esther Combs, now 22 and using a different name, testified during the trial that Mrs. Combs beat her with baseball bats, burned her with a curling iron and pulled out chunks of her flesh with pliers -- causing more than 400 scars on her body. She also said she was forced to do all the chores.

Combs, the former pastor of the now-defunct Emmanuel Baptist Church in Bristol, denied the allegations and testified that he was "bewildered" by Esther's claims. He said the couple meant to adopt Esther but couldn't afford the financial demands from the children's home in Valparaiso, Ind. Mrs. Combs didn't testify.

In addition to kidnapping, Combs was convicted of aggravated assault, aggravated perjury and rape. Mrs. Combs also was convicted of aggravated child abuse.

Esther Combs gave a statement from the witness stand before Mrs. Combs was sentenced.

"I just wanted to tell you how much you hurt me because I don't think you fully understand how much damage you have really done to me or that you even care," she said. "But I had to say this to you face to face. You really hurt me. You made me feel like I wasn't anything."

Defense attorneys said they planned to appeal.

2000 Apr 25