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Federal Judge Refuses to Disqualify Self from Missionary's Rape Case

27-Nov-2015

In June, a former missionary at a Kenyan orphanage was convicted of sexually abusing several children. However, his attorney claimed throughout the trial that his client's confession was coerced under duress, and that his client was innocent of the charges.

Matthew Lane Durham, 21, was convicted of 7 counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, but the jury acquitted him of 10 other felony counts, including 9 counts of travelling with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. Immediately after his conviction, his attorney appealed.

In late September, the Oklahoma County District Attorney's office notified a federal judge that there was evidence of possible prosecutorial misconduct during Durham's trial. According to District Attorney David Prater, the lead prosecutor in the case asked one of the assistant district attorneys for information about a defense expert. During the conversation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Don Gifford II revealed to Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Gayland Geiger that a local pediatrician made statements that contradicted claims of a Kenyan physician who examined several of the alleged victims. Geiger claims he urged Gifford to reveal the contradicting evidence,but instead, Gifford is accused of withholding medical evidence.  

The Kenyan doctor testified that the girls had internal genital injuries as a result of sexual assault, but Geiger told the federal prosecutor that internal injuries would be rare without the use of an instrument to inflict the injuries--particularly 6 weeks after the alleged assaults, when the girls were examined.

Geiger reported, "I told him it is very unusual to have physical findings in children; that it is extremely unusual to have physical findings 6 weeks after the event; that even if there were an injury, it would have healed in that amount of time; and, that it is ... almost unheard of to have physical findings in 5 of 6 ... victims." 

Durham's attorney added the District Attorney's filings to his request for a new trial, and he also accused the prosecutor of having an extramarital affair with a reporter covering the trial. After United States District Judge David L. Russell refused him to allow any mention of the alleged affair in his filings, the defense attorney sought to disqualify him, saying that the judge appears to have a "deep-seated bias" in favor of the prosecution.

Judge Russell said he takes allegations of bias very seriously, since impartiality should be the hallmark of any judge. However, he stands by his decision to disallow allegations of an affair, saying the attorney "failed to come forward with a scintilla of evidence that any relationship between Mr. Gifford and the reporter had an impact on the trial."

The judge refused to disqualify himself from the highly-contentious case, rejecting the defense's request to have a new judge determine whether to uphold the conviction, acquit the defendant, or grant him a new trial.  

Durham has not yet been sentenced following his conviction. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places is punishable by 30 years in prison, meaning that upon sentencing, Durham faces  up to 210 years in prison.    
 
 



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