Prosecutor Says Church Sex-Abuse Case Remains under Review

By Jeff Lehr
Joplin Globe
November 15, 2007

PINEVILLE, Mo. — The McDonald County prosecutor said Thursday that it was a technical issue that forced her to drop sexual-abuse charges against a minister and members of a fringe church near Powell, and not a lack of cooperation on the part of the alleged victims.

Prosecutor Janice Durbin was responding to criticisms leveled by an attorney representing one of two alleged victims in the case that was dismissed Nov. 6.

"It was a technical issue and not a personal one with the victims," Durbin said.

She also said the charges may yet be refiled against Raymond Lambert, pastor of Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church; his wife, Patricia Lambert; and his sister-in-law, Laura Epling.

"I have not ruled it out," Durbin said.

The Lamberts and Epling had been charged with sexually abusing two former female members of the church when they were underage. The defendants were scheduled to go to trial this week. But Durbin dropped the charges when problems developed in getting the alleged victims deposed by the defense on Nov. 1 and Nov. 5.

Similar charges against two deacon brothers in the church, Paul Epling and Tom Epling, Laura Epling's husband, were dismissed almost a year ago. The sexual-abuse case drew national news attention in August of last year.

Erin Willis, a Pineville attorney representing one of the alleged victims, issued a statement Nov. 9 blasting the prosecutor's decision to drop the remaining charges against the Lamberts and Laura Epling.

Willis said the alleged victims were not given proper notice of deposition dates and times, and that Durbin violated the alleged victims' rights under state law by not informing them in advance of her intention to drop the charges.

Willis claimed in the statement that the alleged victims had been "ostracized" by others in their church's community for coming forward to authorities for protection of themselves and others. She said Durbin's decision left them "abandoned" and "deeply saddened."

"This is an all-consuming matter in their lives," Willis told the Globe in a telephone interview Thursday. "They were at the point that with the trials, they felt they may finally be able to go forward with their lives, and this has just taken them back to the beginning."

She said the alleged victims never stopped cooperating with the prosecutor's office as Robert Evenson, the attorney representing the Lamberts, told the Globe when the charges were dropped.

Evenson said Thursday that problems in obtaining depositions began in October, when Willis directed the alleged victim she represents not to answer certain questions Evenson asked her, including whether she was having a relationship with Ethan Epling, a witness in the case who also is represented by Willis.


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