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Break in trial of US man accused of raping Kenyan children

16 June 2015, 22:15

Oklahoma City - Federal prosecutors questioned their final witnesses Monday, some of them children who testified through an interpreter in a closed courtroom, before resting their case against an Oklahoma man charged with sexually abusing children at an orphanage in Kenya.

Matthew Lane Durham, 20, of Edmond, Oklahoma, faces 17 counts of sexual misconduct, including aggravated sexual abuse and engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Durham has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Stephen Jones, is scheduled to begin presenting evidence Tuesday and has said Durham will testify in his own defense.

The last prosecution witness, like the first who testified June 10, was a child aged 12 or under whom Durham is accused of molesting between April and June 2014 while he served as a volunteer at the Upendo Children's Home in Nairobi, Kenya.

A total of five children — four girls and a boy — testified before the jury and court personnel only to shield them from the public and the media. The children, who speak Swahili, testified through an interpreter.

Federal law gives U.S. prosecutors the authority to prosecute an American citizen who travels to a foreign country for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with persons under the age of 16.

Durham returned to the U.S. in June 2014 before the allegations against him had been fully investigated by the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and Kenyan authorities.

After prosecutors rested their case, Jones asked U.S. District Judge David Russell to dismiss many of the counts against Durham, alleging that the government had failed to produce evidence that he intended to engage in illicit sexual conduct prior to his trip to Kenya. Russell denied the motion.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gifford recalled testimony that Durham, a volunteer at the orphanage since 2012, had asked to arrive at Upendo days before other volunteers and to stay at the orphanage instead of at the off-premises housing that is customary for volunteers. The orphanage specializes in neglected children and provides food, housing, clothes, and educational and religious instruction.

"He had a lifelong struggle to touch children," Gifford said.

Prosecutors also presented statements Durham gave orphanage authorities after he was confronted about allegations of misconduct with some of the children.

"I would take her to the bathroom at night and hold her down and rape her. This happened on several occasions," one of the handwritten, signed statements said.

Jones has challenged the credibility of those statements and claims Durham confessed to crimes he did not commit because he was under duress. He said orphanage officials had detained and isolated him and had taken away his passport.

Jones has described Durham as "an emotionally vulnerable teenager" who was struggling with "sexual identity and development" while also being a devout Christian.

Russell told jurors he expects the trial to wrap up this week.

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- AP


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