Harvest Bible Chapel youth minister’s disorderly conduct conviction overturned

A state appeals court overturned the disorderly conduct conviction of a former Harvest Bible Chapel youth minister accused of texting a young parishioner.

The Illinois 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that Kane County Circuit Court Judge Michael Noland erred in refusing to dismiss the case against Paxton Singer of Sugar Grove, after he said Singer might have a new trial because he would have liked to see more evidence.

In September 2 decision, a three-judge panel concluded that Noland’s statement on the evidence meant that he did not believe prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to prove Singer’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, Noland acquitted Singer, according to the ruling.

According to the opinion, having a second trial would have violated Singer’s constitutional right not to be retried with new evidence on the same charge, i.e. created what is called double jeopardy.

Singer, now 27, was indicted in October 2018 with the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct, charged with disturbing and alarming the parents of a 15-year-old Harvest parishioner in December 2017. It was there It was then that the teenager’s father learned that Singer had texted the boy in July and August 2017, including a question about masturbation and another about the boy spending the night at Singer’s residence. In total, as of 2016, the singer and the teenager had exchanged around 2,000 messages.

Noland sentenced Singer on November 12, 2019.

But on November 22, 2019, Noland accepted Singer’s request for a new trial. Singer’s attorneys argued that prosecutors failed to sufficiently prove the charge. Noland said at the time that he would have liked to see more evidence on the chronology of the texts. He also allowed prosecutors to change the charge.

In December 2020, Singer’s attorneys filed for a dismissal, saying allowing prosecutors to present new evidence risked overtaking Singer. But on February 11, 2020, Noland denied this, quashed the order for a new trial, and reaffirmed the conviction.

At the time, Singer’s lawyer, Terry Ekl, called Noland’s action “absolutely absurd”. He could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The appeals court noted that the evidence was, indeed, sufficient to prove Singer’s guilt. But “an erroneous acquittal remains an acquittal,” wrote Judge Kathryn Zenoff.

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