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Samuel Benda, accused sex criminal, has a birth certificate that proves he's 17, lawyer says

Samuel Benda's case will turn on the veracity of a birth certificate that's on its way from Sierra Leone.

Benda is charged with having sex with a minor and possession of child pornography. The former  charge, the more serious of the two, stems from an intermittent sexual relationship Benda had with a 15-year-old girl last year; the latter is the result of nude images on Benda's computer and cell phone of a 17-year-girl.

After Benda's defense attorney argued that the adoptee from Sierra Leone was actually 17, not 19, the judge in Benda's case ruled on Monday that he was an adult, and had been an adult during his alleged offenses. District court Judge Richard King decided that Benda had broken the law, and could stand trial as an adult, citing a slew of documentation that indicated Benda was born October 27, 1991.

But Lauri Traub, Benda's public defender on the case, told City Pages that the date is wrong. Traub said Benda's father, Jim Benda, had tracked down a Sierra Leone birth certificate that shows Benda was, in fact, born October 27 -- but in 1993, rather than 1991.

"I frimly believe that he's 17 years old an in an adult jail," Traub said.

This morning, Traub argued that Benda should be released on bail, but Judge King denied that. King did grant a request for a speedy trial, which will still leave Benda in jail until his next court date of November 8. Traub told City Pages that Benda isn't happy in jail, and that he's worried about the rumors of other inmates treating sex offenders badly.

"He's having a hard time in jail," Traub said. "He's very young. He's concerned about [being picked on by other inmates], and we tried to get him out. It's not going to happen."

In ruling that Benda was 19 years old, Judge King had listed Benda's repeated use -- including on police documents -- of October 17, 1991 as his date of birth. But Traub says that date doesn't come from any real evidence.

Benda, who'd been a child during Sierra Leone's horrific civil war, had been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder in the years after he was adopted by his Minnesota parents. According to Traub, police were called to the Bendas' house 26 times to deal with the juvenile refugee.

'Many of those times," Traub said, "it because [Benda] was having homicidal ideations toward his parents."

Around the same time, Benda began telling his adoptive parents that he was older than they'd thought. His parents took him in to see a doctor, who tested Benda's bone density and offered an age range, within which his parents chose October 27, 1991. They went to the state, and asked them to issue a birth certificate for that date, which was granted, according to Traub, who said there are several flaws with this process.

Firstly, at the young range of the doctor's estimate, Traub said, Benda would still have been a minor at the time of these sexual relationships.

But beyond that, bone density tests are not recognized by United States authorities, partly because the control samples are from white American men in the 1930's, Traub said. Still, Benda's given age stuck with him through high school, and it sticks with him now, in court and in jail.

"Everybody began using that date," Traub said, "and there's really no basis for it. It became, in my eyes, a lie that was perpetuated"

As Traub was speaking with City Pages, she said that she'd received an e-mail scan of his Sierra Leone birth certificate, which shows the year of his birth as 1993. She said the paper would arrive in the mail October 4, and be used at trial, but said she still had a lot of work to do before November 8.

"I wish I could spend eight hours a day working on this case," Traub said.


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