OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal jury convicted an Oklahoma man on Friday of illicit sexual conduct with children at a Kenyan orphanage that specializes in caring for neglected children.
Matthew Lane Durham, 20, of Edmond, was found guilty of multiple federal charges of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places and faces decades in prison at sentencing. Jurors cleared him of accusations that he planned to abuse the children before leaving the United States.
Durham had served as a volunteer at the Upendo Children's Home in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi since 2012. He was on his fourth visit to the orphanage that provides food, housing, clothing and educational and religious instruction when he was accused of sexually assaulting children between April and June 2014.
"The wolf in sheep's clothing got among the lambs," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Petermann told jurors during closing arguments Thursday.
The jury deliberated for about nine hours over two days.
Durham showed no emotion as the 17 verdicts were read — seven convictions and 10 acquittals. Members of his family as well as friends and supporters wept openly in the courtroom and as they left the Oklahoma City federal courthouse. Representatives from the orphanage sobbed.
"This is not a verdict to celebrate. The only winner here is justice," U.S. Attorney Sandy Coats said after the jury announced its verdicts.
The convictions cannot recover the innocence that was lost by the Kenyan orphans, Coats said.
"Their lives will never be the same," he said. "Mr. Durham is a threat to children."
Convictions for engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places can draw prison terms of up to 30 years and a $250,000 fine, though under federal sentencing guidelines terms of imprisonment are often much less. U.S. District Judge David Russell ordered a pre-sentencing report but did not set a date for Durham to learn his punishment.
Durham's attorney, Stephen Jones, declined comment as he left U.S. District Court.
Orphanage officials and five of the children traveled from Kenya to testify at the trial in Oklahoma City. The children, who speak Swahili, testified through an interpreter only after the judge cleared the gallery and closed the courtroom to the public and media.
Coats described the prosecution as a "very challenging case" and said the testimony of the children was crucial in obtaining the convictions.
Kenyan government officials also testified in the case, including Lilian Kiamba of the Kenya Police Service.
"It was a coordinated effort from both governments," Coats said.
Prosecutors presented handwritten, signed confessions that Durham gave orphanage officials after he was accused of inappropriate behavior. Jones said the statements were coerced by orphanage officials who isolated Durham, took his passport and created the allegations to obtain $17,000 from the U.S. government for security cameras.
In the statements, Durham describes the alleged sexual assaults of a 12-year-old girl in a bathroom, and forcing another child to perform oral sex.
But in the trial, Durham said, "It never happened. I would never do anything to hurt those kids."
Durham also testified about his Christian faith and his onetime belief that he was possessed by a demon that made him "do evil." He also said that despite struggling with a temptation to touch children, he never acted on it.
Prosecutors produced a series of text messages Durham sent to friends while still in eastern Africa, saying a demon named "Luke" was controlling his behavior. In one, Durham wrote: "He stole my passport and is trying to stop me from getting help. He wants me to stay here and do evil with him."
The trial, which started on June 10, was held in Oklahoma under a federal law that gives U.S. prosecutors the authority to prosecute American citizens who travel abroad for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with someone under age 16.
Durham was acquitted of a charge that he "traveled in foreign commerce" with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and eight counts of aggravated sexual abuse with children, which an indictment described as traveling out of the country with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor.
He was convicted on charges involving girls ranging from 5 to 15 years old and a 12-year-old boy.