Sex Abuse Charges Refiled Vs. Pastor

Associated Press/December 4, 2007

Pineville, Missouri - Child sex abuse charges have been refiled against the leader of an isolated church commune, a month after the original case was unexpectedly dropped by prosecutors.

Raymond Lambert, 52, was charged Monday with four counts of second-degree child molestation, three counts of second-degree statutory sodomy and one count of sexual abuse, according to court records.

Lambert is the pastor of Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, a live-in church community founded by his stepfather on a rural farm in the Ozarks.

Two women, now ages 20 and 29, who left that community last year alleged they were repeatedly abused from the ages of 12 to 16 by Lambert over several years.

They told investigators that he sometimes told them he was "preparing your body for service to God."

Lambert had pleaded not guilty to the original charges from August 2006. His lawyer Robert Evenson did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday.

The renewed charges were filed a month after prosecutor Janice Durbin dismissed all charges against Lambert; his wife, Patty Lambert; and their sister-in-law Laura Epling, the wife of a church deacon.

Durbin has said the cases were dropped because of a technical issue.

Investigators alleged in court filings that Raymond Lambert used religious rituals to molest and abuse several young girls, helped at times by his wife and their sister-in-law.

The three were charged with counts alleging that they had abused young girls for many years at the Baptist community in southwestern McDonald County.

Raymond Lambert's uncle George Otis Johnston, who led a smaller commune-style church in neighboring Newton County, is facing 17 felony counts on suspicion of abusing two girls. He has pleaded not guilty.

The charges against Patty Lambert and Epling had not been refiled as of Tuesday, according to court records. Durbin did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

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