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Lyons files for divorce in Polk


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons, a St. Petersburg minister and former president of the National Baptist Convention USA, has filed for divorce from his wife, Deborah, the woman who set the fire that led to her husband's imprisonment.

The petition was filed March 2 in Polk County, where Lyons is serving a 5 1/2-year sentence for racketeering and grand theft. The former pastor of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church states that his almost 29-year-old marriage is irretrievably broken.

Lyons claims no assets and $7.8-million in debts, including a lien and restitution payments. He is asking the court for equitable distribution of the couple's personal property and liabilities.

The couple's troubles became public in July 1997 when Mrs. Lyons was arrested for setting fire to a Tierra Verde home that her husband had purchased with another woman, Bernice Edwards.

The arson triggered an investigation of Lyons, then president of the nation's largest black church organization, and his financial dealings using the convention's name.

Throughout the escalating scandal, Mrs. Lyons remained at her husband's side, praising him and praying for him. Convicted in 1999, Lyons, 59, is serving his sentence at the Polk Correctional Institution. Mrs. Lyons, 53, pleaded guilty to arson on Oct. 20, 1997, and received five years of probation. In August 2000, after successfully completing the terms of her probation, she was granted an early end to her sentence.

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