Prosecutors say they have charged a 19-year-old man with a pair of felonies for having sex with his underage ex-girlfriend and taking nude photos of another teenage girl he was dating.
But Samuel Josiah Benda says he's actually 17.
Benda, who was adopted from Sierra Leone without an official birth certificate, shouldn't face an adult sex charge because he is not more than two years older than the alleged victim, his defense attorney argued this week in Dakota County District Court.
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In Benda's case, Dakota County District Judge Robert King this week began considering the question of Benda's age after his defense presented a copy of his birth certificate from Sierra Leone, stating he is 17. In court Wednesday, King questioned the document's authenticity and suggested the defense find his original birth certificate, his parents said.
But finding original records from war-torn Sierra Leone is difficult, they said.
"I don't know if such a document exists," Martin said.
Benda, who was adopted in 2005, arrived in Minnesota four months after his adoption because the U.S. State Department needed to investigate the adoption before issuing him a visa. At the time, a spokesperson from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the process was to ensure there was no fraud or child trafficking in the adoption.
Benda's adoption documents said he was 11 years old, which would make him 17 today, Martin said. Records from Social Security, his immunizations and his Minnesota citizenship show that age. However, Benda later obtained other records saying he's 19.
A 2005 Pioneer Press report about the adoption reported that Benda was 11.
The mix-up happened shortly after the adoption when Benda told his parents he was 13, not 11. Martin now believes Benda, who suffers from multiple behavioral disorders, said he was older because he was being bullied in school and wanted to advance grade levels.
"We believed him," Martin said.
A doctor evaluated Benda's bone density, pubertal development and height to estimate his age at the time, Martin said. The doctor stated Benda was between 13 and 14 years old.
However, the defense argued that bone-density tests are not always accurate.
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