DENVER (CN) – Attorneys for an Oklahoma missionary convicted of having sex with Kenyan orphans told a 10th Circuit panel on Thursday that their client confessed to crimes he didn’t commit because he was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed out of Kenya.
Matthew Durham was sentenced to 40 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of having sex with four children at the Upendo Children’s Home in Nairobi, Kenya. Prosecutors said Durham told another missionary that a demon named “Luke” possessed him to hurt the children, while the defense maintained the children’s center forced Durham to claim he was possessed by a demon in a written confession that was made after days of withholding food and Durham’s passport.
A U.S. jury convicted Durham on 7 of 17 counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place in 2015.
Durham’s attorney Stephen Jones of Jones Otjen & Davis in Enid, Oklahoma, told a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Thursday morning that Durham was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed to go home unless he confessed.
“[Durham’s] convictions were obtained through prejudicial evidence,” Jones said, adding that one of the founders of the children’s home confronted Durham and told him “he was not going to leave Kenya” until he confessed.
“He would not get his passport back until he confessed,” Jones said.
Jones said that due to Durham’s religious commitment – the attorney described Durham at trial as a devout Christian – he was manipulated into saying incriminating things that the U.S. government took as a confession.
According to Jones, Durham told the founder that he was “sometimes attracted to men” and struggled with child pornography, though Durham’s computer and phone had been searched and authorities found “no evidence of any child pornography had been seen, used, watched, or bought,” Jones said.
“You don’t think that was related to his intent?” Circuit Judge Harris Hartz asked.
“These are sins for which they forgave him,” the attorney added. “He’s saying enough to get absolution and grace.”
Steven Creager for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oklahoma City said the merits of Durham’s confession hardly mattered, since the jury was instructed to take the circumstances into consideration.
“The confession did not curate [his convictions],” Creager said, listing five witnesses who testified to the crimes.
“There was a jury instruction that they could disregard the confession if it became unreliable,” Creager said. “The defendant was not deprived of due process.”
Circuit Judges Scott Matheson and Nancy Moritz joined Hartz on the panel. They did not indicate how or when they would rule.