OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma man accused of sexually abusing children at an orphanage in Kenya testified Wednesday about his Christian faith and his onetime belief that he was possessed by a demon that made him "do evil" as he denied allegations that could send him to federal prison for the rest of his life.
Matthew Lane Durham, 20, of Edmond, testified in his own defense for about five hours. He told the jury that he traveled to the Upendo Children's Home in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi to help the orphans and that despite struggling with a temptation to touch children, he never acted on it.
"It never happened. I would never do anything to hurt those kids," Durham said in a federal courtroom crowded with family friends and supporters, supporters of Upendo and Kenyan nationals, including representatives of the Kenya Police Service.
Five children who reside at the orphanage have previously testified about sexual assaults allegedly committed by Durham while he served as a volunteer between April and June 2014. The children, who speak Swahili, testified through an interpreter after the federal courtroom was cleared to shield them from the public and the media.
Several orphanage officials, including founder Eunice Menja and manager Josphine Wambugu, testified that Durham provided handwritten, signed confessions after he was accused of inappropriate behavior — statements that defense attorney Stephen Jones has said were coerced by orphanage officials who isolated him and took his passport.
"All of them are wrong," Durham said Wednesday.
Jones has suggested that orphanage officials used the case to obtain more than $17,000 from the U.S. government to install security cameras at the orphanage.
Durham is charged with 17 counts of sexual misconduct, including aggravated sexual abuse and engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. If convicted on all charges, he faces up to life in prison.
Durham had been a volunteer at the orphanage since 2012 and was on his fourth visit when he was accused of molesting children.
He testified that after he was accused of misconduct, he confided in orphanage officials that he had struggled with homosexual urges and a temptation to touch children. Durham said homosexual conduct is a sin in his devout Christian faith. But throughout the day, he insisted that he never molested the children.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Griffin displayed a series of text messages that Durham sent while still in east Africa to friends in which Durham said a demon named Luke was controlling his behavior.
"Luke just finds a way," Durham wrote in one text message. "He stole my passport and is trying to stop me from getting help. He wants me to stay here and do evil with him."
"Literally, he takes me at night and there is nothing I can do to stop him. I'm asleep what can I do?" he wrote in another text.
In a text to Menja, Upendo's founder, Durham wrote: "I've prayed so many times that God will rid me of this demon inside of me that has hurt those who I love."
Durham said he began to doubt Luke's existence and influence once he returned to the U.S.
"Luke was never around. He's not real," Durham testified.
Griffin also questioned Durham about a text in which he claimed a psychologist contacted by his parents believed he may have dissociative personality disorder, which is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct personalities. Durham stated in the text the disorder could explain why he experiences "obsessive compulsions."
"I don't have another personality," Durham responded Wednesday. Jones objected to the question and said he has not raised Durham's mental health as a defense.
Jones declined to question Durham further after Griffin's cross-examination.
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.
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.