McDonald County prosecutors drop last charges against deacon

Thursday, August 16, 2007

PINEVILLE, Mo. (AP) -- The last sexual abuse charges against the deacon of a southwest Missouri church have been dropped because the statute of limitations had expired.

Prosecutors dropped a rape charge against Paul Epling, 54, a deacon of Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, according to McDonald County Prosecutor Janice Durbin.

A 35-year-old woman had accused Epling of forcing her to have sexual intercourse when she was 6.

Epling originally faced seven counts in alleged sexual acts with that girl and a second one between 1976 and 1983. Statute of limitations issues also caused prosecutors to drop those charges.

The initial seven charges were amended by prosecutors in September 2006 to one count of felony rape and two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy. Both sodomy counts were dropped less than three months later.

Charges against Paul Epling's brother, Tom Epling, 51, were also dropped in December under the statute of limitations.

The brothers were among several church leaders from two affiliated churches accused of abusing young girls from their congregations, sometimes as part of a ritual or ceremony.

Four other church members still face child sexual abuse charges.

Raymond Lambert, 52, the church pastor, is charged in McDonald County with three counts of second-degree statutory sodomy and four counts of second-degree child molestation.

Lambert's wife, Patty Lambert, 50, is charged with one count of second-degree child molestation.

George Otis Johnston, 64, pastor of a sister church called Grandview Valley Baptist Church North, near Granby, faces 17 felony charges: nine counts of first-degree statutory sodomy, six counts of second-degree statutory sodomy and two counts of first-degree child molestation.

Laura Epling, Tom Epling's wife, faces one charge of second-degree statutory sodomy in McDonald County.

Information from: The Joplin Globe,

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