Judge orders ‘rare' full discovery

The Neosho Daily News, Missouri/September 13, 2006
By John Ford

Pineville -- In what has been deemed a “rare” occurrence, a court order has been granted for full discoverY in the case against four McDonald County church pastors accused of felony child sexual abuse.

In late August, McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage ordered that full discovery be granted to defense attorney Bob Evenson, who is representing Raymond Lambert and four other leaders of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church.

The move is rare, said McDonald County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Geeding, in that the request was made before the defendants' appearance for a preliminary hearing.

“I've never received an order from a judge for full discovery prior to a preliminary hearing,” said Geeding. “We have an open file policy anyway.”

Geeding said his staff just finished providing discovery on Tuesday afternoon.

According to the order, issued by McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage on Aug. 25, law enforcement is to maintain and preserve all physical evidence, 911 tapes, surveillance tapes, audio and video tapes, original notes, notes, memos and correspondence gathered in the course of the investigation. The prosecutor is ordered to provide those to the defense prior to the preliminary hearing, set for 1 p.m. Oct. 2 in Judge LePage's courtroom.

Under the order, Geeding's office must also present the names and last known addresses of any witnesses they plan to call as witnesses “at any hearing or trial, together with the written or recorded statements and existing memoranda, reporting and summarizing all or part of their oral statements.” The office must also provide any written or recorded statements made by the defendants, a list of all witnesses to the making, and a list of all witnesses to the acknowledgment of such statements and the last known addresses of such witnesses.

Additionally, expert witness testimony falls under discovery, as do any documents, photographs or books the state intends to enter into evidence and record of prior criminal convictions against any of the defendants.

“If there has been any photographic or electronic surveillance (including wire tapping) relating to any offense with which the defendant is charged, of the defendant or of conversations to which the defendant was a party or of his premises, this disclosure shall be made in the form of a written statement by counsel for the state, briefly stating and setting forth the facts pertaining to the time, place and persons making the same and the substance of the same.”

And any material or information which the prosecution has which would negate the guilt of the defendant, as to any offense charged, or change the degree of the offense charged, or reduce punishment, is also covered under the full discovery order.

Lambert, his wife, Patty, and her brothers, Paul and Tom Epling, are accused of a variety of child sexual abuse charges, with some of the allegations dating back nearly 30 years.

Lambert's uncle, George Otis Johnston, 63, faces 17 felony statutory sodomy charges in Newton County and a felony charge of first degree child molestation in McDonald County. Johnston is the pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church North, an offshoot of the McDonald County congregation.

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