Esther Combs
Esther Combs

Evangeline Combs Appeals Conviction in Child Abuse Case


Attorneys for Evangeline Combs filed a motion Wednesday afternoon asking Judge Jerry Beck for a new trial based on 32 errors they say he made during the trial.

Combs, 50, and her husband, Joseph Combs, 51, were convicted March 24 of especially aggravated kidnapping. She was also convicted of four counts of aggravated child abuse and he was convicted of aggravated assault, aggravated perjury, aggravated rape and seven counts of rape.

Assistant Public Defenders Terry Jordan and Joe Harrison filed the motion Wednesday for Evangeline Combs. From the time their client was sentenced April 25, the attorneys had 30 days to file the motion for a new trial. Joseph Combs' attorney, Rick Spivey, still has until 5 p.m. today to file such a motion for his client.

During a sentencing hearing April 25, Beck sentenced Joe Combs to a total of 114 years in prison and Evangeline Combs to 65 years in prison. The girl they raised and called Esther Combs is now 22 years old and has changed her name to Elsa Garcia. Investigators began their probe into the abuse after Garcia tried to kill herself by drinking antifreeze in February 1997.

Hospital officials were surprised to find multiple scars covering most of the young woman's body, and Bristol, Tenn., Det. Debbie Richmond-McCauley was called to investigate.

After Richmond-McCauley went back to the Combses' residence at the Emmanuel Baptist Church, where Joe Combs was the pastor, a probe into fire code violations revealed the family lived in squalid conditions.

Later that year, Richmond-McCauley attempted to have a court guardian appointed for Garcia, Joe Combs attended the hearing and said his daughter had left home and he didn't know where she went.

Trial testimony revealed that on the day he went to court, Combs arranged for his daughter to go stay with a preacher friend of his in South Carolina. The woman later went to Joe Combs' brother's home in Georgia and it was there that she made the decision to call Richmond-McCauley and tell the investigator about the life she had been forced to live.

Garcia testified at trial that she was forced to cook the family's meals, make the grocery list and do the laundry. She said her first memory was of being tied to her high chair and pushed down a flight of stairs when the family lived in Indiana.

She also testified that she was beaten nearly daily and Joe Combs forced her to perform oral sex on him on a regular basis. Combs testified at trial and said his daughter was lying. Reasons in Evangeline Combs' motion for a new trial include trial error:

"In denying defendant's motion to continue the trial after the state provided information to the defense about times and dates of some of the alleged acts.

"In not dismissing a juror who ended up being the jury foreman and who worked as a nursing supervisor at Bristol Regional Medical Center.

"In overruling defense objection to the state dismissing the only juror of Hispanic descent (Evangeline Combs ethnic origin is Hispanic).

"In denying a motion for a change of venue.

"In not allowing the defense additional juror challenges.

"In allowing photographs showing scars on the victim.

"In allowing into evidence statements the victim made in the emergency room.

"In allowing photographs of the family's living area at Emmanuel Baptist Church.

"In denying a judgment of acquittal on all counts.

"In sentencing the defendant as to time and as to ordering consecutive sentences.

Published May 24, 2000 Kingsport Times-News

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