Former missionary’s guilty verdict ‘cannot bring back the innocence’
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.