Defense Lawyers Say Missionary's Rape Confession Coerced


Late last month, an Edmond missionary was arrested and charged with federal sex crimes after allegedly molesting and raping young children in Kenya. Matthew Durham, 19, a volunteer with Upendo Children's Home in Nairobi, Kenya, was charged with travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct (18 USC 2423[b]), after officials with the nonprofit organization said that Durham confessed to sex acts with male and female children at the orphanage where he was working as a volunteer.

Now, Durham's defense lawyers have had the opportunity to challenge evidence against him in court. The hearing is intended to allow a judge to determine if there is enough evidence against the defendant to proceed with a trial. Although federal prosecutors say that Durham's confession is evidence of his guilt, the defense argues that the confessions were made under duress.

Durham's defense attorneys say that their client was held for four or five days by officials with Upendo Kids, who took his passport and withheld food until he confessed to molesting children at the orphanage. They say that his admission to another volunteer that he was possessed by a demon named "Luke," short for Lucifer, was also coerced.

A press release by the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Oklahoma indicates that the young man is accused of engaging in sex acts with multiple children, aged 4 to 9, while staying at the orphanage between April 30 and June 17. They say that on previous mission trips with Upendo Kids, Durham stayed offsite with a sponsor family; however, on the most recent trip, he stayed in an overflow bunk at the children's home. Prosecutors say he used his proximity with the children to rape and sexually assault them.

Even though the alleged acts occurred in Kenya, the United States government has jurisdiction over the case under 18 USC 2423, which deals with the transportation of minors for sexual conduct, travel with the intent to engage in sexual conduct with minors, and engaging in sex with minors in foreign places:

(a) Transportation With Intent To Engage in Criminal Sexual Activity.— A person who knowingly transports an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any commonwealth, territory or possession of the United States, with intent that the individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years or for life. 

(b) Travel With Intent To Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct.— A person who travels in interstate commerce or travels into the United States, or a United States citizen or an alien admitted for permanent residence in the United States who travels in foreign commerce, for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both. 

(c) Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct in Foreign Places.— Any United States citizen or alien admitted for permanent residence who travels in foreign commerce or resides, either temporarily or permanently, in a foreign country, and engages in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

Under this statute, "illicit sexual conduct" is defined as:

  1. any sex act with a minor under 18 that would be a crime if it took place in the United States or under its territorial jurisdiction
  2. any commercial sex act (for example, prostitution) with a minor under the age of 18

Child prostitution in foreign countries is a violation of federal law whether or not the act is legal in the destination country.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Durham faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of the crimes of which he is accused.

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