Jeff Bent's statement of support

Michael Travesser / Wayne Bent at sunset

My name is Jeff Bent, and I would like to share a few thoughts regarding the trial of my father, Wayne Bent. At the end of his trial in Taos, New Mexico on December 15, 2008, my father was convicted on one count of criminal sexual contact (CSM) with a minor, and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, with 8 years suspended. His sentence included 8 years probation, the requirement to attend a course for sex offenders, and to register as a sex offender wherever he lives for the rest of his life. My father’s case is now before the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

My father is now detained at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas, New Mexico. I visit him often and am doing everything within my power to help him regain his freedom.

My father is approaching his 69th birthday. He has no previous criminal convictions. I know without question that he is not a sex offender and he is innocent of the charges he was convicted of in Taos. If he were to last long enough in prison to reach his release date, he will not attend a sex offender class or register as a sex offender, since it is against his religious beliefs to lie, or participate in false pretense. At his age, he was essentially given a life sentence because, according to the prosecutor, he “must have” touched the top part of a breast of an under-aged girl during a healing ritual.

The State’s own witnesses said they were not molested or touched sexually. Even if my father were guilty, this sentence is totally bereft of any reason, logic or justice. When my father’s attorney reminded the judge that the sentence for attempted murder is 15 years, the judge deadpanned that the sentence is actually 14 years for attempted murder. The sentence my father received reveals that the court was not operating from a principle of justice, but of prejudice and vindictiveness. I cannot say this too strongly or repeat this enough.

Had my father received ten months’ work release like the high school coach in Alamogordo who had actual sexual intercourse numerous times with his 15-year-old pupil, or if he would have received probation like the fire captain in Rio Rancho who did the same thing, we probably would have moved on and not even filed an appeal. But by giving my father 18 years, Judge Baca guaranteed that the State is going to have this case in its face until it is overturned. My father’s friends and church family will not stand for it.

I feel I should state the fact that I have about four years’ courtroom experience on the State’s side, obtained during my short career in law enforcement in California during the 1980’s. I am aware of how the system is supposed to work and the burden of proof the State must meet in order for the jury to convict someone of a crime. I have worked with prosecutors and have testified on a number of criminal cases, from petty crimes all the way up to rapes, attempted murders and as the initial investigator on a murder for hire scheme. I have helped put some dangerous people in prison and I have no problem accepting that some people in this society need to be in prison. Unfortunately, many of them are free today, working for the State or sitting on the bench.

Throughout the legal process leading up to my father’s convictions I endeavored to keep an objective point of view and to observe whether the various components were working as they should. I know it is common for people to criticize the justice system when things do not go their way, but that is not how I approached this. I wanted to deal with this issue truthfully and have the State do the same, rather than simply obtain an outcome that was favorable to my dad. I could have accepted a truthful outcome, whatever it was. My protest in regards to my father’s criminal case is not that he was found guilty by the jury, but that his case was not dealt with honestly by the State and the court.

An honest court would have established what the elements of the crime were. The jury was never instructed as to what a “breast” is. It was never established in court, for the record, exactly where A.S. was touched. During closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that my father “must have” touched the breasts of the witnesses when he laid his hand over their heart, because of the size of his hand. To say a person “must have” done something doesn’t cut it where I come from. The contortions the State performed to prove their case were laughable.

Shortly after my father’s arrest, District Attorney Donald Gallegos circumvented the preliminary examination hearing when he dropped charges against my father in Magistrate Court and sought a Grand Jury indictment against him. I understand this sleight of hand was legal, but this also enabled the State to keep L.S. and A.S., the two minor witnesses, quiet and out of the courtroom. He ignored our requests to bring the minor witnesses before the Grand Jury. He relied instead on “safe room” interview videos where L.S. and A.S. were being led on by the interviewer. The DA’s pretense was that he was “protecting” the two minor witnesses from the stress of a preliminary examination, but he knew very well that if the witnesses were permitted to talk it could do irreparable harm to his chances of going to trial. I don’t have any doubt about this.

Mr. Gallegos “rushed to judgment” using a Grand Jury whose term had expired four months before, and was not properly empaneled in accordance with the law. This issue has been raised on appeal.

Judge Gerald Baca later joined in the effort to keep L.S. quiet by denying the emergency motion for an evidentiary hearing filed by Ms. Montoya. L.S. had sent a message to us saying her mother had struck her with a thin metal rod, and that she was suffering from abuse and emotional distress. We requested a hearing where L.S. could tell the court where her religious freedoms were being trampled by the State in this case, and possibly receive some protection and support in her circumstances. Ms. Montoya presented a forceful argument before the court using case law (State v. Foulenfont) that applied specifically to this kind of request. Seemingly unable to refute her argument, Judge Baca became agitated and denied her motion. He lost his credibility with me at this point when I saw that he also had a vested interest in keeping a gag on L.S.

A few days ago L.S. was present during a meeting we had with John McCall, my father’s attorney. Mr. McCall asked her if she felt members of the district attorney’s office had abused her. She replied, “Emotionally, yes... They ripped my heart out.” L.S. recounted how no matter what she would say to clarify that she was not touched sexually or violated by Mr. Bent, and that the healing ritual in question was part of her religious faith, they would ignore her, or counter what she said with their own assertions.

L.S. recounted a meeting she attended with District Attorney Donald Gallegos and his deputy, Tomas Benavidez. Several times she told them directly and emphatically, “HE DID NOT TOUCH ME SEXUALLY.” They both replied, “But it was sexual in nature.” L.S. responded, “BUT IT WASN’T SEXUAL IN NATURE.” The DAs then said to L.S., “But it was against the law.” I still believe strongly that there are some consequences that are yet to be felt by the DA for his treatment of L.S.

It should be noted at this point that L.S. aka “Healed” had a nickname at the DA’s office in Clayton. Mr. Benavidez called her “the little bitch.” These are not the words of a State official who was sincerely concerned about protecting a minor from abuse, but the words of an abuser who was trying to use this young girl for his own agenda.

The State’s failure to meet its burden of proof became most evident to me during the testimony of A.S., the witness for which my father was convicted on one count of CSM (he was acquitted as to L.S. on this same charge). At one point A.S. testified that she was kissed on the breast by my father, but when asked by the attorneys for both sides to point to where he had touched her during the healing ceremony, I observed A.S. point to an area two or three inches below her left clavicle, and several inches above the fatty, rounded portion of the left breast (“on the heart”).

We can argue all day about where the “breast” begins on a female, but in my book the intimate part of the breast is not located where she pointed to. In her witness interview, A.S. stated she was touched “[r]ight, right above the breast. When I mean right there, I don’t know what you would call it, the upper breast.” Ms. Montoya responded, “Okay, the clavicle.” This statement of A.S. in her witness interview was consistent with where she pointed to on the stand. A.S. seemed uncertain about what to call the place where she had been touched, whether on the breast (upper part of her front torso) or the mammae on the breast. The sense of what she meant was never clarified by the court, and was a cause of confusion for the jury.

Even Judge Baca was recorded during a bench conference during closing arguments saying, “There’s no evidence to support that there was ever a touching of the breast.” His statement of the obvious has troubled my father’s supporters and detractors alike. While he wasn’t making a ruling when he whispered these words, their impact has been widely felt nonetheless. If there was no evidence as to the charge of CSM, why did he give my father 18 years?

At one point the prosecutor asked A.S., “And when he had his hand over your heart was part of his hand touching your breast?” A.S. replied, “I don’t remember.” During cross Attorney Sarah Montoya held up a Barbie doll wearing an ample bikini, and asked A.S. if my father touched her anywhere covered by the bikini on the doll. A.S. replied, “No”. Ms. Montoya asked, “Are you sure?” A.S. replied, “Yes”.

The cause for reasonable doubt as to the CSM charge was astounding. From a professional and objective point of view, I felt A.S. had just sunk the State’s case. Her testimony raised more questions than it answered. “Reasonable doubt” - the standard for an acquittal - was all over the place.

As a man, I could say that if I intended to touch a woman’s breast, I would not be ambiguous about it. The testimony about what happened was ambiguous. It was judicial misconduct for this judge to give my father 18 years based on this kind of testimony. Judges are not only empowered but obligated to intervene when a jury verdict will result in an obvious injustice.

I use the argument of reasonable doubt simply because it is the court’s own standard for acquittal. I won’t judge a person for disagreeing with my father’s methods of healing in this case, simply because everyone is entitled to their opinions. But if the court is going to drop an 18-year sentence on someone, it needs to keep its own rules. The record shows that it didn’t, but instead bears witness of too many errors, blatant injustices, misconduct and underhandedness on the part of both the State and the court.

The only remedy is for the New Mexico Court of Appeals to vacate all of my father’s convictions.

I have no doubt over my father’s innocence simply because I know his character well and he testified that he did not touch A.S. on the breast and my father would never lie, even to save his life. It would be completely contrary to his nature to do such a thing, and lie about it.

How a conviction ensued speaks only of the elephant in the court room that no one wanted to admit was there, and that was the scurrilous film about our church that was being broadcast regularly by the National Geographic Channel, from the time of my father’s arrest right up to his trial. This film, along with other saturation coverage by the news media, created a sensation in this part of New Mexico. Where the State was lacking in evidence and facts at trial, the NatGeo movie more than compensated for with innuendos and false claims, swaying public perceptions and tainting the entire process. This film was made by director Ben Anthony who was also in attendance at my father’s trial, camera in hand, filming the sequel to his first film.

Contrary to all the fuss and uproar, it is not illegal to claim to be a messiah, or for minors to be naked in the presence of an adult. But let’s be honest — these are the real issues that resulted in an 18 year sentence for my dad, not that a minor’s breast was touched — a fact that was never established in court. The jury had no reasonable grounds to make that finding.

My father has not shown “proper deference” to the court or the State, and has claimed authority from a higher power than the State. He has been unflinching in condemning the actions and hypocrisy of the State. His stance has offended those in positions of earthly power and they resolved to make an example out of him. This is why he was given an 18-year sentence, not because he “must have” bumped the edge of some breast tissue on a minor.

Minors are often naked in the presence of an adult while visiting their doctor. It usually occurs without the doctor contributing to their delinquency or corrupting their morals. The State contended that my father contributed to the delinquency of these girls because he allowed them to be naked in his presence to the detriment of their morals, but I disagree with that. Like a physician, his only motive was to help them and he knew that agreeing to their request to be unclothed in his presence and have him pray for them would help resolve them from their childhood traumas.

L.S. is doing well and part of our church today because of the healing experience she received from my father, and in spite of all the pressure and emotional assaults of her parents and the DA’s office, and a nearly two-year forced separation from our church. Her morals are doing just fine. A.S. has the morals she desires to have.

On May 6th 2008 I was shocked beyond belief by the arrest of my father, Wayne Bent, who I have known my entire life to be a man of spotless integrity. I have known my father my entire life, and there is not a person I hold in higher regard than he. My father has never lied to me, broken a promise, or demonstrated a propensity to gratify himself at the expense of others. He has never shown himself to be morally impure, or prone to sexual impropriety. Some of his accusers are guilty of these things, though.

I was raised with two younger sisters. My father was physically affectionate with all of us kids and never once did we experience a touch or find ourselves in a situation with him that was inappropriate or that later caused us to question the purity of his fatherly love. My sisters have signed affidavits attesting to this. If our dad was an abuser or molester, we would know it. Instead, we know him as a man of unswerving moral integrity and faithfulness to God. I would question if the same could be said about his accusers.

It should be noted that A.S. and L.S. were raised in our church from the time they were small babies. We were close like a family and they are like our children. When A.S. and L.S. desired this healing experience with my father, his way of relating to them was the same as a father with his own newborn child, and he treated them gently and sacredly. There was none of the foul, earthly elements imagined by those with their own pornographic mindset - a cult leader having sexual thoughts and temptations towards his teenaged members.

In this day and age, so drenched with sex and pornography, so jaded and cynical, can anyone accept that a man can possibly be pure in heart while a young woman is unclothed in his presence? Is there anyone with the eyes of understanding who can see that the ways of God always rub society the wrong way, often resulting in the stoning or crucifixion of the messengers he sends?

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God's messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me.” - Jesus Christ, quoted from Luke 13:34.

I know my father well, and he has the Spirit of God living in him, and those filled with the Spirit are not ruled by the corruption of their flesh.

I would be the last person on this earth to defend a child molester or someone who abuses his position of authority to gratify his selfish desires. I do not believe that a person’s religious beliefs give them the freedom to break the law and touch children sexually. I would be repulsed by anyone who would do such a thing, as I know my father would be. I could not defend my dad if he ever did such a thing, even if I felt he had made honest mistakes without selfish motivations. But I understand his methods and believe his actions were and are inspired, and I do not believe he broke the law. I know his integrity is beyond reproach. I speak with authority because I have known him my entire life, unlike my father’s accusers, who have only attacked figments of their imagination about him.

Throughout my life my father has been an inspiration to me in every dark time. There were years I did not share his beliefs or follow in his steps, but I held him in high esteem during those times nonetheless. He had earned my respect by his consistent honesty, integrity and regard for every soul he came in contact with. Later in my life he and I became closer. I have never known anyone to consistently treat people with love and respect in the way he does, regardless of how they have treated him. He has consistently sacrificed his life for others, and followed God’s leading in his life, even when it cost him everything. He has always been true to his instructions from God to speak what God has given him to say to people, even when the correction and help has been misunderstood and they have turned on him in offense and hatred.

I see his path as higher, greater and nobler than that of any other living person I know of today. It is my belief, as sure as there is a God in heaven, that he will be vindicated.

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