- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. An imprisoned former Baptist leader wants a divorce, but his wife does not, her attorney said.

Deborah Lyons "did not want it, and had not sought it," Ky Koch said from his office in Clearwater.

Henry Lyons is the former president of the National Baptist Convention USA and St. Petersburg minister. He expects to get out of prison in 2004.

"I have not seen my wife since March 31, 1999," Lyons said in a statement Tuesday from Polk Correctional Institution, where he is serving a 5 and 1/2-year sentence for racketeering and grand theft. "I feel obligated to free her from the pain and mess I have caused."

The former minister of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church filed for divorce on March 2. In the petition, Lyons claims to have no assets but $7.8 million in debts, including a lien and restitution payments.

Other than saying that Mrs. Lyons did not want a divorce, her attorney did not elaborate on what she had hoped would happen. Mrs. Lyons did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

She now works as a supervisor for a federally funded Workforce Investment Act job-training program and earns $32,510 a year.

Mr. Koch doubts the minister is destitute. "There are some assets, admittedly minimal, that he's got and that we will be entitled to," Mr. Koch said.

Larry Hardaway, an attorney for Lyons, responded: "He doesn't want anything from the marriage. He thinks that his wife should get all of it in order to take care of her life."

The two have been married for almost 30 years.

In July 1997, she was arrested for setting fire to a $700,000 home that her husband had purchased with another woman, Bernice Edwards. Lyons, then president of the nation's largest black church organization, said at the time that the house was for convention business.

The arson initiated a two-year investigation into Lyons and his financial dealings using the convention's name. He was convicted in 1999.

Mrs. Lyons pleaded guilty to arson and was put on five years' probation. In August 2000, after successfully completing the terms of probation, she was granted an early end to her sentence.

• Distributed by Scripps Howard

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