The Attorney General’s Office will appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court a lower court’s reversal of the 2008 conviction of Wayne Bent — a self-proclaimed messiah who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for sexual contact with two of his underage followers.
Meanwhile, Bent, 70, has filed an emergency motion seeking to be released from prison while the state’s appeal takes shape.
On June 28, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals reversed Bent’s conviction in state District Court, saying that the term of the grand jury that indicted Bent had expired and that a District Court judge could not extend it.
“Legally speaking,” Judge Roderick T. Kennedy wrote in the opinion, “there was no grand jury convened in this case.”
The Attorney General’s Office soon will ask the Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s ruling.
“The State disagrees with the analysis of the (Court of Appeals) about the grand jury proceeding and the remedy,” AG’s spokesman Phil Sisneros told the Journal in an email.
In the meantime, Bent, through his attorney, John McCall of Albuquerque, is asking the Appeals Court to either release him from custody outright or allow Bent to post an appeal bond. In his motion, McCall reminds the court of his client’s age, that he is not a flight risk, and that he has been “court ordered to be fed a liquid diet by a feeding tube since October of 2009.” At that time, Bent refused to eat while locked up at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility.
McCall asks that Bent be released “so as to prevent further potential injustice and possible medical complications for Mr. Bent and to avoid the redundant filing of multiple motions in multiple courts.”
Bent’s prison sentence stems from a conviction in December 2008, when Taos jurors found him guilty of one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts each of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for separate incidents with two underage girls in the summer 2006. The incidents occurred at Bent’s Strong City Compound in rural Union County, where Bent, his son, Jeff, and about 45 of his followers resided at the time.
The girls — sisters who were 16 and 14 at the time — testified that they “lay naked” with Bent. However, they gave different accounts of their experiences, and the jury found Bent guilty of having criminal sexual contact with only one of them.
Jeff Bent remains hopeful that his father will be back home at Strong City very soon.
“I feel really good about it,” Jeff Bent said. “I feel that the major hurdle is cleared, and now we deal with the legal stuff and he’ll be home.”
Jeff Bent said that he and other supporters and followers “were just all thrilled” to hear the news of the appeals court’s recent decision.
“I’m still feeling kind of numb,” he said. “It’s been a long 2 1/2 years seeing my dad in prison. But we saw it as part of our growth process, going through a trying time. We believe that God would do something to help my dad.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal