Court Postpones Church Sex Abuse Hearing

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News
December 18, 2006

However, judge finds probable cause against deacon's wife

Pineville - A preliminary hearing for one McDonald County church leader facing a child sexual abuse charge was postponed, while a judge ruled there was probable cause to continue proceedings against the wife of another leader.

Proceedings against Paul Epling, 53, were postponed as his accuser could not be in McDonald County Circuit Court this morning due to illness. Epling faces an unclassified felony charge of rape dating back to Nov. 7, 1978.

Dan Bagley, assistant McDonald County prosecutor, said the witness had been admitted to the emergency room over the weekend for a stomach virus, but did not require hospitalization.

Newton County Division II Associate Circuit Court Judge Greg Stremel set the preliminary hearing for 9 a.m. Jan. 29. Stremel is presiding in the case after McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage recused himself from hearing the case.

Paul Epling is a deacon in the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, located near Powell. The church is pastored by Raymond Lambert, 51, who faces a total of seven felony child sexual abuse counts.

Meanwhile, after hearing testimony from a 19-year-old woman and her father, Stremel ruled there was probable cause to continue proceedings against Laura Epling, who faces a Class C felony charge of second degree statutory sodomy.

In testimony today, a 19-year-old woman, a former member of Lambert's church, testified that while she was 16 years old, she performed oral sex on the pastor in the living room of Laura Epling's home.

She said Mrs. Epling walked in on the pair, and Lambert told the older woman to show the girl how to perform the act.

The young woman testified Mrs. Epling did so by grabbing the back of her head. She then said the older woman took over performing the act on Lambert, then had sex with the pastor while she watched.

"I remember her saying that she was proud of me for giving myself to him," the young woman testified.

She said afterward, the three went into Mrs. Epling's bedroom, where the pastor and the older woman continued to engage in sex. The pastor then pulled the young woman over, and fondled her genitals while having sex with Mrs. Epling, the accuser testified.

On cross examination from defense attorney Sherrie Lynn Hansen, the woman testified the incident happened in the fall of 2003, and that Mrs. Epling took the younger woman's hand, placing it onto Lambert's genitals.

"Did Laura Epling touch you after she touched the back of your head?" Hansen asked.

"She gave me a hug after it was over," the young woman said.

After the young woman's testimony, Hansen asked to dismiss the charge as there was no proof that Laura Epling was 21 or older at the time of the incident.

Bagley then told the court his next witness would prove that point, and called Tim Amey to the stand.

Amey said Mrs. Epling was his older sister, and testified he was currently 43 years old.

He also stated he was the accuser's father, and first learned of the alleged incidents shortly before the family moved out of the compound this past spring.

After his testimony, Stremel ruled there was probable cause to continue proceedings, and set an arraignment for 10 a.m. Jan. 9.

Laura Epling's husband, Tom, another deacon in the church, was present for today's proceedings. Five charges of child sexual abuse have been dropped against him because of the statute of limitations in the case. Tom Epling faces no other charges.


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