Four members of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church in Washburn, including the pastor and his wife, entered not guilty pleas in McDonald County Circuit Court today to sex charges purportedly connected to church rituals.
Preliminary hearings for the four, Rev. Raymond Lambert, his wife and stepsister, Patty, and her brothers (and his stepbrothers) Paul Epling and Tom Epling will be held 1 p.m. Oct. 2, according to court records.
The four were allowed to turn themselves in today, six days after charges were filed by McDonald County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Geeding, and posted percentage bonds, court records indicate. Bond had been set at $50,000 apiece for Lambert and the Eplings and $30,000 for Mrs. Lambert.
Lambert, 51, 589 Cecil Epling Lane, Washburn, was charged with one count of first degree child molestation, four counts of second degree child molestation and three counts of second degree statutory sodomy. One child molestation and one statutory sodomy charge are from 1995, the first degree child molestation from 2000 with two more charges from 2001, one from 2002 and two from 2004.
Mrs. Lambert, 49, faces two charges, both stemming from April 3, 2004- child molestation in the second degree and endangering the welfare of a child in a ritual/ceremony.
Paul Epling, 53, 362 Cecil Epling Way, Washburn, faces seven charges, none more recent than 1983, according to the court documents. He was charged with first degree statutory rape, sexual intercourse with a person less than 14 years old, which allegedly took place Nov. 7, 1978; statutory sodomy, first degree, deviate sexual intercourse with a person less than 14 years old, July 15, 1978; followed by the same charge for offenses that allegedly took place on the same day each of the following four years. On the fifth year, on the same date, July 15, 1983, Epling allegedly committed first degree statutory rape.
Tom Epling, 51, 584 Cecil Epling Way, Washburn, faces five counts of first degree statutory sodomy, all taking place on July 15, beginning with 1978, then occurring in each succeeding year through 1982.
The area in which they live, Cecil Epling Way, is named after Tom Epling, Paul Epling, and Patricia Lambert's father, and Raymond Lambert's stepfather, Cecil Epling, who died several years ago. Mr. Epling was reputed to be a leader with a cultlike following which has reportedly stayed together in the Washburn area even after his death, in what has been described as "a compound" by nearby residents who spoke to the Neosho Daily News last week.