Jury selected in trial of Oklahoma man accused of abuse

AP News
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Posted: Jun 09, 2015 4:55 PM
Jury selected in trial of Oklahoma man accused of abuse

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A jury was selected Tuesday in the trial of an Oklahoma man accused of sexual misconduct involving children at an orphanage in Kenya.

The eight men and four women, plus three alternate jurors, were seated after U.S. District Judge David Russell, prosecutors and defense attorneys asked about 70 prospective jury members questions, including whether they have been victims of sexual abuse.

Opening statements in the trial of Matthew Lane Durham, 20, are scheduled for Wednesday. Prosecutors also will begin questioning the first of their up to 35 witnesses in a case the judge said could take as long as two weeks.

Durham has pleaded not guilty to 17 charges including aggravated sexual abuse and engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. He has pleaded not guilty and his attorney, Stephen Jones, has said Durham will testify in his own defense.

Durham is accused of engaging in sex acts between April and June 2014 while working as a volunteer at the Upendo Children's Home in Nairobi, Kenya, which specializes in assisting neglected children. He faces life in prison if convicted.

He had volunteered since 2012 at the orphanage that provides food, housing, clothes, and educational and religious instruction. Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gifford said six children alleging abuse have traveled from Kenya to Oklahoma for the trial, although it's uncertain if all of them will testify.

"This is a very hard subject for them," Gifford said.

At least one will not be called to the witness stand and two others are questionable, he said.

Last week, Russell granted prosecutors' request to keep the public and media out of the courtroom while the children testify. Other portions of the trial will be open.

"The victims may not be as open about the details of their encounters with the defendant during a public trial," prosecutors said in a recent court filing.

Prosecutors also said they feared "substantial psychological harm" to children forced to testify in front of a crowd.

Russell told jury members that some witnesses speak Swahili and are expected to testify through interpreters.

The emotional nature of some trial testimony became clear as prospective jurors were questioned about serving on Durham's jury. Five women were excused from service after they confided in Russell that they had been impacted by some form of sexual abuse. One of them fought back tears as she left the courtroom.

Several other prospective jurors were excused after they said they were familiar with details of the case through media coverage.

An affidavit filed in the case says Durham wrote and signed a statement for orphanage officials acknowledging the alleged sexual misconduct. An Upendo official provided the statement to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, the affidavit says.

Jones has challenged the statement, which he says was coerced by orphanage officials who kept his client, Durham, in isolation and confiscated his passport.