Judge to Study Rape Charge Allegations

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News [Pineville MO]
January 29, 2007

A Newton County judge has taken under advisement a felony rape charge against a McDonald County church leader pending judicial review of state statutes.

On Monday, Newton County Division II Associate Circuit Court Judge Greg Stremel took the rape charge against Paul Epling, 53, under advisement during a preliminary hearing in Pineville. His ruling is expected Feb. 26.

Epling, a deacon in the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, is accused of having sex with a 6-year-old girl in the summer of 1977.

Now 35, the woman testified Monday that Epling had sex with her at the age of 6 while she was staying the night at Grand Valley Farms, which is the site of the current Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church.

McDonald County Assistant Prosecutor Dan Bagley contends testimony is enough to proceed with rape charges against the McDonald County church leader.

However, defense attorney Duane Cooper contends a state statute mandates that physical evidence of penetration be presented before a rape charge is assessed.

Under Section 546.330 of the state statute, "Proof of actual penetration into the body shall be proficient to sustain an indictment for rape, or for the crime against nature." The statute dates from 1939, with prior revisions in 1929, 1919 and 1909.

The woman testified Monday she and her family attended Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church "from my earliest recollection."

She said in the summer of 1977, Paul and Joyce Epling came to her family's home to pick up a car her father had been working on. She said she rode back to the Eplings' farm with Joyce Epling, as she had the couple's infant son with them and needed someone to hold the baby on the ride back, as they couple didn't have a car seat.

The woman said she spent the night with the couple, adding that family member Laura Epling was present as well. She said she was to put to bed on a hide-a-bed in the living room.

"At any point in time, did Paul Epling have contact with you?" asked Bagley.

"I remember being woken up at some point during the night," the woman answered. "Paul came into the living room, called my name and shook my shoulder."

The woman testified Epling told her he had awakened her to get her a drink of water. She said she didn't drink water after a certain time at home, for fear she would wet the bed.

"Did you tell him that?" Bagley asked.

"Yes, he said it was OK, I wouldn't get in trouble."

She said she recalled Epling was clad only in a baby blanket which he had wrapped around himself.

After getting her a drink, Epling led her to the bedroom of Raymond and Patty Lambert, who were not at home at the time.

"He said I could sleep in there instead of on the couch," she said.

She said Epling then laid her on the bed and removed her underwear, telling her if she wet the bed, she would still have dry underwear in the morning.

She testified Epling then kissed her and fondled her.

"How did you react?" Bagley asked.

"I went rigid," the woman replied. "I did not understand what this was about."

She said Epling then kissed her genitals and put her hand on his genitals before having sex with her.

"It was very painful," she said. "I was afraid to cry out because I would get in trouble."

"Did he say anything?" Bagley asked.

"He said I had to do that to give myself to God," the woman replied. "I kept repeating that I wanted to go back to bed."

"How long would you say it took place?" Bagley asked.

"It seemed like it was forever," the woman replied.

"Do you remember how it ended?" the assistant prosecutor queried.

"When he was finished," she said. "He just stopped. I remember feeling on the bed for my underwear, and crawling under the covers and going back to sleep. I cried myself to sleep."

The woman testified she could not remember seeing any blood from the act, as the room was dark. Under cross examination from Cooper, she said she kept her eyes closed throughout the incident.

Under cross examination, the woman said she told her mother the next day about the incident. However, she said, as she was only 6, she couldn't really describe what happened that night. She then testified she told her parents about the incident when she was older, but did not recall their reaction.

The woman also testified she was in pain after the incident, but couldn't remember any bleeding. She also said during her first gynecological exam, the physician noted that her hymen was already broken.

"Did you bring that up to your parents?" Cooper asked.

"My mother was with me at the time," the woman said.

"Why did it take you 30 years to come forward?" Cooper asked.

"I believed there was a statute of limitations," the witness replied.

Under re-direct, Bagley asked how old Epling was at the time of the incident. The woman said she didn't know, but added he was a married adult.

As Epling was born in February 1953, and the incident allegedly took place in the summer of 1977, he would have been 24 at the time.

Epling is one of five church leaders facing child sexual abuse charges. His sister, Patty Lambert, 49, and her husband, Raymond, 51, will appear for pre-trial conferences on Feb. 20. Raymond Lambert, the pastor of Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, faces seven felony charges: Four counts of second degree child molestation and three counts of second degree statutory sodomy. Patty Lambert faces a felony count of second degree child molestation.

Laura Epling, wife of church deacon Tom Epling, faces a felony charge of second degree statutory sodomy. She is also to appear Feb. 20 for a pre-trial conference.

Raymond Lambert's uncle, George Otis Johnston, is the pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church in Granby. He faces 17 felony charges relating to child sexual abuse in Newton County, and a felony first degree child molestation charge in McDonald County. He's to appear Feb. 9 for case reviews on the Newton County charges, and on Feb. 20 for a pre-trial conference on the McDonald County charge.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.