Sex Abuse Charges Dropped in Case of Missouri Commune

Associated Press, carried in International Herald Tribune
November 6, 2007

JOPLIN, Missouri: A prosecutors dropped a child sex abuse case against the leader and others in a southwest Missouri church commune accused of abusing girls as far back as the late 1970s.

Prosecutors dismissed all charges against the Rev. Raymond Lambert; his wife, Patty Lambert; and their sister-in-law Laura Epling, the wife of a church deacon, on Tuesday, a week before the Lamberts were scheduled to go to trial. All three had pleaded not guilty.

The case drew national attention in August 2006 when the Lamberts and two relatives were charged with multiple counts for allegedly abusing young girls for many years at their Baptist community on an isolated farm in the Ozark mountains.

Defense lawyer Robert Evenson said charges were dropped because two women his clients were accused of abusing as girls had stopped cooperating with prosecutors. The two alleged victims twice failed to show up for depositions, he said.

Prosecutor Janice Durbin did not return calls for comment.

The case expanded to include a variety of abuse charges against two men who were brothers of Patty Lambert and another man, an uncle of Raymond Lambert, who led a smaller commune-style church in a neighboring county.

Raymond Lambert was the pastor of Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, a religious community that had as many as 100 people who lived on or near a 100-acre (40-hectare) farm.

Sheriff's investigators alleged in court filings that Raymond Lambert used religious rituals to molest and abuse several young girls over a period of years, helped at times by his wife and his sister-in-law.

The investigation began after some of the alleged victims left the compound last year and called authorities.

But prosecutors in the small, rural county have had some troubles. The charges against the two deacons were dropped because of statute-of-limitations issues discovered only after the counts were filed.


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