Harvest Bible Chapel youth minister's disorderly conduct conviction thrown out
A state appellate court has overturned the disorderly conduct conviction of a former Harvest Bible Chapel youth minister who was accused of texting sexually oriented messages to a teenage parishioner.
Illinois' 2nd District Appellate Court ruled that Kane County Circuit Court Judge Michael Noland erred when he refused to dismiss the case against Paxton Singer of Sugar Grove, after saying Singer could have a new trial because he would have liked to have seen more evidence.
In the Sept. 2 ruling, a three-justice panel found that Noland's statement about the evidence meant he didn't think prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence to prove Singer guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In effect, Noland acquitted Singer, according to the ruling.
Having a second trial, according to the opinion, would have violated Singer's constitutional right to not be retried with new evidence for the same charge -- that is, created what's called double jeopardy.
Singer, now 27, was charged in October 2018 with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, accused of disturbing and alarming the parents of a 15-year-old Harvest parishioner in December 2017. That's when the teen's father learned that Singer sent to the boy text messages in July and August 2017, including one asking about masturbation and another about having the boy stay overnight at Singer's residence. Overall, starting in 2016, Singer and the teen had exchanged about 2,000 messages.
Noland convicted Singer on Nov. 12, 2019.
But on Nov. 22, 2019, Noland agreed to Singer's request for a new trial. Singer's lawyers argued prosecutors hadn't sufficiently proved the charge. Noland said at the time he would have liked to have seen more evidence about the timeline of the texts. He also permitted prosecutors to amend the charge.
In December 2020, Singer's lawyers asked to have the case dismissed, contending that allowing prosecutors to present new evidence put Singer at risk of suffering double jeopardy. But on Feb. 11, 2020, Noland denied that, vacated the order for a new trial and reaffirmed the conviction.
At the time, Singer's attorney, Terry Ekl, called Noland's action "absolutely absurd." He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The appellate court noted the evidence was, indeed, sufficient to prove Singer guilty. But "an erroneous acquittal is still an acquittal," Justice Kathryn Zenoff wrote.