Judge finds former Harvest youth minister not guilty of child exploitation
A former youth minister for Harvest Bible Chapel was found not guilty Tuesday of sexual exploitation of a child.
But Paxton Singer, 25, of Sugar Grove was found guilty of disorderly conduct, because the text messages he exchanged with the youth -- a 15-year-old parishioner -- alarmed and disturbed the boy's parents.
"We're very pleased the only serious charge was found (not guilty)," said Terry Ekl, one of Singer's two defense attorneys. "Mr. Singer never should have been charged with that in the first place. It was an overreach."
Ekl said he intends to ask for a new trial on the disorderly conduct charge, and if that is denied, he will file an appeal.
Prosecutors declined to comment on the ruling.
Roughly 60 people attended Tuesday's hearing in Kane County. Some were friends and relatives of Singer. Others were current and former members of Harvest, some of whom have criticized the church and its former senior pastor on several issues, including the Singer case.
Singer was charged with knowingly enticing someone younger than 17 to remove clothing for sexual purposes. The charges allege that in three text conversations, Singer asked for a photo of the boy in his underwear, for a photo of the underwear itself, and for the boy to stay overnight at his residence.
There were other texts in which Singer asked the boy about the style of underwear he was wearing, among approximately 2,000 texts Singer and the youth exchanged after they met in summer 2016 on a bus to Harvest's camp in Michigan, according to the charges. Singer was the youth's cabin counselor.
Reading from his written decision, Judge Michael Noland said he wished someone would have asked the boy, when he testified, if he had felt pressured by Singer to remove his pants to show himself in his underwear.
Text messages indicate Singer wanted to see the underwear, but none of the messages submitted into evidence contained a request for the victim to remove his clothing.
But the judge also said he wouldn't have been able to consider the boy's answer, because the boy may have wanted to avoid hurting Singer, who had been a mentor, or disappointing his own parents, who had filed a report with police.
"If this court cannot know beyond a reasonable doubt if he (the boy) feels that pressure, I am compelled to find him (Singer) not guilty," Noland said.