Requesting photo of underpants 'not a crime,' defense argues as trial begins for ex-Harvest youth pastor

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the date for when a report of suspected sexual exploitation was made to DCFS and Aurora police.

The first day of Paxton Singer's trial on a charge of sexual exploitation of a child began Wednesday with defense attorney Terry Ekl arguing Singer is innocent because he never asked the victim to take off any clothing.

The state law Singer is accused of breaking specifically prohibits a person from knowingly enticing, coercing or persuading a child to take off clothing for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification of the person or the child.

"In none (of the texts Singer sent) does he ever suggest to (the victim) that he remove an article of clothing," Ekl said.

Asking for a photograph of the boy's underpants "sounds strange," Ekl said, "but it's not a crime."

Singer, 25, is a former youth minister for Harvest Bible Chapel who lives in Sugar Grove.

Roughly 20 people attended the trial to support Singer; at least a dozen others also attended, including critics of the church.

One issue debated Wednesday was what texts between Singer and the boy should be admitted as evidence.

Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Lori Schmidt argued that texts sent in October 2016 are important because "this is part of the slow enticement of grooming" the teen, she said.

"Then they should have charged him with grooming," responded Ekl. Texts sent before February 2017 - the earliest date listed, in the amended charging document - should not be admitted, he argued. (The original charging document said the acts happened from October 2016 to December 2017).

Kane County Judge Michael Noland did not rule on the objection, instead recessing the bench trial for the day. It will resume at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Aurora Branch Court.

Singer was a youth pastor for Harvest in 2016. Schmidt said Singer befriended the boy in summer 2016, when the boy was about to enter high school, on a bus ride to the church's camp in Michigan.

Singer also was his cabin counselor on that trip and later became leader of a church youth group the boy attended.

The boy looked up to Singer as something of a mentor, Schmidt said.

But that relationship "quickly turned" into something else, she said in her opening argument. Texts from Singer to the boy got more personal, with Singer asking the boy if he had had his first kiss, if he was dating anybody, and if that person was a girl, she said.

A Kane County Child Advocacy Center investigator testified that in one of the October 2016 text messages Singer asked the boy about masturbation.

In 2017, according to texts Schmidt presented, Singer asked for a photo of the boy in his underwear; for a photo of the underwear (the boy sent one, of a pair lying on the floor); and for the boy to stay overnight at his house.

Schmidt said the boy told his parents about the last text. His parents became upset, and the father reported it to the church. A former church worker reported it to Aurora police and DCFS in June 2018. The church says it reported the allegation to DCFS in January 2018, but later learned it didn't present enough information for DCFS to generate an incident report . Singer was arrested in October 2018.

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