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Friday, March 24, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Couple convicted of abusing woman used as servant

The Associated Press

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. - A Baptist minister and his wife were convicted yesterday of abusing a girl they took from an orphanage and raised as the family servant.

The Rev. Joseph Combs and his wife, Evangeline, also were convicted of kidnapping, among other charges. They hugged and said "I love you" to their children after the verdict was read.

Esther Combs, whom the couple took as a baby from an Indiana orphanage in 1978, sobbed and declined comment. She was considered kidnapped because the couple took her with the pretense to adopt her but never did.

Esther, now 22 and living in another state under a different name, testified that Mrs. Combs beat her with baseball bats, burned her with a curling iron and pulled out chunks of her flesh with pliers - causing more than 400 scars on her body.

Esther was hospitalized in February 1997 after trying to kill herself by drinking antifreeze. Doctors found layers of scars on her body and fractures that had not healed properly, according to testimony.

She said she was denied an education, forced to do all the chores and required to wear clothing that covered her scars.

The Combses' five children testified that Esther wasn't abused. They said she could read and write well, went shopping without their parents and chose to wear long dresses.

Combs, 51, denied the allegations and testified that he was "bewildered" by them. He said the couple meant to adopt Esther but couldn't afford the financial demands from the Baptist Children's Home in Valparaiso, Ind. Mrs. Combs, 50, didn't testify.

They will be sentenced April 25. Combs faces up to 144 years in prison and his wife up to 73.

Combs, former pastor of the now-defunct Emmanuel Baptist Church in Bristol, also was convicted of aggravated assault, aggravated perjury and rape. Mrs. Combs was convicted of aggravated child abuse. They were taken to jail after their convictions.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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