Former Missionary’s Guilty Verdict ‘cannot Bring Back the Innocence’

By Kyle Schwab
News OK
June 19, 2015

Jurors Friday found former Edmond missionary Matthew Lane Durham guilty of illicit sexual conduct against seven Kenyan children while at an African orphanage in 2014.

A judge will decide his punishment later. Durham, 20, faces decades in federal prison.

“This is not a verdict to celebrate. The only winner here is justice,” U.S. Attorney Sanford C. Coats said outside the Oklahoma City federal courthouse surrounded by the prosecutors.

“Even a guilty verdict cannot bring back the innocence of the children that was taken by Mr. Durham,” Coats said. “Their lives will never be the same, and we can all merely hope and pray that this verdict will someday give them some comfort and peace.”

The jury found Durham guilty of seven counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places with six girls and one boy. All were under the age of 16.

Jurors acquitted Durham of 10 other counts. The verdict was reached after nine hours of deliberation spread across two days.

Emotions in the courtroom were heavy as U.S. District Judge David L. Russell opened the red notebook containing the jury’s verdict. The reading of verdict was particularly hard for Durham’s supporters because he was found not guilty of the first nine counts.

Jurors dismissed all the counts alleging Durham traveled from the United States to Kenya with the intent to sexually abuse the children.

As Russell read the remaining eight counts, the mood in the courtroom shifted. Durham was found guilty of seven of those eight counts. The one acquittal of those eight counts was for a 10-year-old boy who didn’t testify. Durham remained emotionless as the guilty rulings were read.

Tears ran down dozens of grief-stricken faces as family and friends of Durham gathered outside the courtroom. Orphanage officials also wept. The courtroom was packed tightly each day since the trial began on June 9.

During closing arguments Thursday, the prosecution contended Durham traveled to Upendo Children’s Home in Kenya with plans to “prey” on the children, five of which testified in private during the two-week trial.

“The wolf in sheep’s clothing got among the lambs, and Matthew Lane Durham got what he wanted,” an assistant U.S. attorney, David P. Petermann, angrily told the jurors with tears in his eyes.

Demon named Luke

The case gained national attention early on when it was revealed that Durham sent text messages after being accused in Kenya about to having a demon inside him.

“I have a demon in me ... I am powerless over what Luke wants. Yes, I named him. I know how crazy that is,” Durham typed in a text sent to a friend in the United States. “He whispers in my ear all day and he’s so hard to resist ... I’ve prayed so much, but every night Luke gets what Luke wants.”

When Durham testified in his own defense Wednesday, he told the jurors he truly believed he had a demon in him at the time. He testified Eunice Menja, a co-founder of Upendo, told him that she believed an evil spirit or multiple-personality was present in him.

The defense contended that Menja created such an idea and that Durham, 19 at the time, was unfamiliar with such disorders. Durham testified he was confused and trying to understand what his accusers were telling him.

In his opening statement last week, lead prosecutor Robert D. Gifford II asked the jury for a fair and just verdict for Durham and his demon by saying, “Give Luke what Luke deserves... Guilty... Guilty... Guilty.”

Durham testified he named the demon at the time to “differentiate” himself from it. He later confessed to the crimes on camera and in written statements before leaving Kenya. Durham’s defense attorney, Stephen Jones, told jurors that Durham didn’t do the crimes and the confessions were coerced out of fear, threats and having his passport taken from him.

Jones also suggested during the trial a possible financial motive for the orphanage founders to make up the accusations — a $17,000 donation from the U.S. government after the events.

Reaction to the verdict

Jones said his efforts will now focus on the sentencing, adding that they plan to appeal.

“Obviously, the jury studied it very carefully. That was clear,” Jones said about the verdict. “From the notes that (the jurors) sent, it appears that they were not convinced at all about his confession and the texts.”

Jones said that during deliberation, the jurors asked the judge, “If we the jury find the defendant’s confession was induced by extortion and coercion, do we automatically find him not guilty or do we review other evidence?” The judge told them to review the other evidence, Jones said.

Jones also speculated that the jury’s verdict could have been a compromise, meaning some jurors could have thought Durham was guilty of all counts and the others could have thought not guilty of all counts. So a compromise was possibly made, he said.

Durham testified Wednesday to being a heavily active Christian, citing half a dozen mission trips he took before ever traveling to Kenya to volunteer.

“I wanted to make a bigger difference. I wanted to better the lives of the children,” he said. The prosecution alleged the crimes took place between April 30 and June 17, 2014. It was Durham’s fourth trip to Kenya to volunteer at Upendo.

He was part of a Church of Christ congregation in Edmond and had completed his freshman year at Oklahoma Christian University before his arrest last July. He remains in the custody of the U.S. Marshals.

Durham, a citizen of the United States, was tried in Oklahoma City federal court instead of in Africa based on his citizenship, and the accusation that he traveled from Oklahoma to Kenya to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

The sentencing likely will be in about 90 days.








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