Oklahoma missionary sentenced to 40 years in prison for molesting kids at Kenyan orphanage

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A former missionary from Oklahoma convicted of sexually abusing children at an orphanage in Kenya was sentenced Monday to 40 years in a federal prison...

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A former missionary from Oklahoma convicted of sexually abusing children at an orphanage in Kenya was sentenced Monday to 40 years in a federal prison.

U.S. District Judge David L. Russell handed down the sentence to Matthew Lane Durham, 21, who had faced up to 30 years on each of four counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. He also ordered Durham, of Edmond, to pay restitution of $15,863.

“These were heinous crimes committed on the most vulnerable victims. He was their worst nightmare come true,” Russell said.

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Durham, wearing an orange prison-issued jumpsuit, read a statement before sentencing in which he asked the court for mercy but did not express remorse for the offenses he was convicted of. Durham showed no emotion when the sentence was issued.

Prosecutors alleged Durham targeted orphans while volunteering at the Upendo Children’s Home in Nairobi between April and June 2014. Durham had served as a volunteer since 2012 at the orphanage, which specializes in caring for neglected children.

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“All I wanted was to follow God’s plan for me,” Durham told the judge. He said he will try to commit himself to serving others while he serves his prison sentence.

Although Durham claims he is innocent of the charges, he said he was sorry that the accusations against him had damaged the orphanage and those it cares for.

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“The Upendo kids do not deserve this,” Durham said.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said Durham’s actions have had a chilling effect on the lives of dozens of foreign volunteers in Kenya and elsewhere “who must now live under the cloud of suspicion, distrust and apprehension when they volunteer their time, talent and resources for the betterment of children in East Africa and beyond.”

“There is a real perception among Upendo’s local Kenyan community that more pedophiles lurk among the volunteers, especially the young male volunteers,” prosecutors said.

A jury convicted Durham in June on seven counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, but Russell acquitted Durham on three of the charges in January.

The same jury cleared Durham of accusations he planned to abuse the children before leaving the United States. Defense attorney Stephen Jones has said Durham plans to appeal his convictions.

The orphanage’s founder, Eunice Menja, read a statement in court Monday in which she said the sexual abuse was “not only a betrayal of the Upendo mission but of the trust Upendo placed in him.”

“Matthew Durham defiled the children,” Menja said as she fought back tears. “Matthew has no remorse. After he got caught, he still denied.”

Menja told reporters after the hearing that she hopes Durham’s 40-year sentence is long enough to prevent him from being a threat to anyone else.

“We’re hoping that when he comes out he will be a changed man,” she said.

Federal prosecutors had asked in their sentencing memo that Russell to sentence Durham to 120 years in prison — the maximum punishment he faced. Jones had sought a sentence of just eight years, followed by probation.

Evidence produced by prosecutors included handwritten, signed confessions that Durham gave orphanage officials after he was accused of inappropriate behavior.

Jones has argued that the statements were coerced by orphanage officials who isolated Durham, took his passport and created the allegations to obtain $17,000 from the U.S. government for security cameras.

Jones has described Durham, who was 19 when he was charged in 2014, as “an emotionally vulnerable teenager” who was struggling with “sexual identity and development” while also being a devout Christian.

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