Judge orders new disorderly conduct trial for former Harvest Bible youth minister

A Kane County judge on Friday ordered a new trial for a former Harvest Bible Chapel youth minister on a disorderly conduct charge that he alarmed parents of a teen he was mentoring when he texted the boy about masturbation and asked if the boy could spend the night at his apartment.

Paxton D. Singer, 25, of Sugar Grove, was found not guilty of sexual exploitation of a child but guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct after a bench trial before Judge Michael Noland in September.

Noland issued his verdict earlier this month. Singer was due Friday in Aurora Branch Court for sentencing; the disorderly charge was the least severe of any misdemeanor, carrying a sentence of probation to up to 30 days in jail.

But after hearing arguments from defense attorney Terry Ekl and Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Lori Schmidt, Noland granted a new trial and gave prosecutors time to amend their disorderly conduct complaint against Singer.

"We going to have a new trial. We're going to have it solely on count two of disorderly conduct," the judge said. "I am not prepared to enter a different finding than I had previously."

Ekl argued a motion for a new trial - a procedural step needed for an appeal to an appellate panel, which usually only orders a new trial if there was trial error, such as improper testimony or improper evidence being allowed.

However, Ekl's motion argued that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Singer knowingly caused the boy's parents alarm. Ekl argued that Singer and the teen, then 15, had texted about the sleepover in July and August of 2017, and the teen told Singer that was OK with his parents.

But in December 2017, the teen's dad said no to any sleepover and banned the two from contacting each other.

"They did nothing to demonstrate they were alarmed and disturbed with that communication (in summer 2017)," Ekl said, adding they only became disturbed five months later.

Schmidt contended the teen's parents grew more uncomfortable with Singer's messages, finally reaching a point in December 2017 where sending their son to Singer's for a sleepover was not an option.

"He didn't call the police, but he did take action to protect his son," Schmidt said.

Singer was fired from his Harvest post in early 2018 and arrested in October 2018.

Both sides are due back in court on Dec. 20; Ekl said he would research whether a second trial would violate Singer's Constitutional protection from "double jeopardy."

Ekl said he believes that with Noland granting a new trial on grounds that prosecutors failed to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Singer was guilty, it would preclude a second trial for reasons of double jeopardy.

In Noland's not-guilty verdict earlier this month on the sexual exploitation charge, he 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 from Singer showed he wanted to see the underwear, but none of the messages contained an explicit request or order for the teen to remove his clothing.

"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 at the time.

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