Church Official's Wife Ordered to Trial
Laura Epling Faces One Count of Second-Degree Statutory Sodomy

Associated Press, carried in News-Leader
December 19, 2006

Pineville — The wife of a church official is the fourth person ordered to stand trial in a case of alleged sex abuse of young girls at two southwest Missouri church communes.

Laura Epling was bound over for trial Monday by Associate Judge Gregory Stremel, after a preliminary hearing in McDonald County Circuit Court during which a former member of the church testified about the alleged abuse, the court clerk's office said.

Epling faces one count of second-degree statutory sodomy for allegedly helping the Rev. Raymond Lambert molest a then-16-year-old girl at the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, a commune-like farm in rural McDonald County in far southwest Missouri. Epling previously pleaded not guilty.

Her husband, Tom Epling, is a church deacon. Charges against him were dropped earlier because the statute of limitations had run out.

No trial date has been set for Laura Epling, but an arraignment will be held Jan. 9, the court clerk's office said.

The same former church member, now 19, testified in October against Lambert, 51, and his wife, Patty Lambert, 49.

The woman testified that Raymond Lambert repeatedly undressed and fondled her, starting when she was 12, with the pastor telling her she was serving God by giving her body to him.

The woman testified that on one occasion Laura Epling walked in while she was performing oral sex on the pastor and showed the teenager how to do so, then had intercourse with Lambert while the teen watched.

The Lamberts also face trial, although a date has not yet been set.

Raymond Lambert faces seven felony counts of child sexual abuse, and his wife faces one count of child molestation. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Raymond Lambert's uncle, George Otis Johnston, who was pastor of an allied church commune in neighboring Newton County, also has been ordered to stand trial. Johnston, 63, has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of abusing a girl over an eight-year period, beginning when she was 8 years old.

Tom Epling's brother, Paul Epling, who also was a deacon in the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, is charged with raping another girl and pleaded not guilty, pending a preliminary hearing.


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