(September 17) Beyond90Seconds received an e-mail from Jeff Bent at 7:10 am (PST) today. Bent is the son of “cult leader” Wayne Bent, whose criminal case has been extensively covered on this blog. Wayne Bent (aka Michael Travesser) and his followers have also been the subject of two National Geographic Channel documentaries and numerous news reports around the world. In December 2008, a New Mexico jury convicted Wayne Bent on one count of second-degree sexual contact with a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. According to his son, prisoner Wayne Bent has been fasting for 18 days.
Jeff Bent’s unedited e-mail, apparently sent to numerous media outlets, is shared below with his permission:
You are receiving this message because you have contacted me about my
father, Wayne Bent, or have reported on his criminal case. I have
sent copies of this message to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson,
Attorney General Gary King, and the Department of Corrections.
My father is on the 18th day of a religious fast over his wrongful
conviction and imprisonment. Since Monday, September 14th, he has
been taking water only.
John McCall, my father’s attorney, stated publicly, “Our office has
determined that this case is more of a trial of the media and the
structures in our society that are tasked with determining the truth.”
The media’s role is to separate fact from fiction, and to seek the
truth. The courts are to judge according to the facts and the law –
The media and the courts failed spectacularly at doing their job. My
father, Wayne Bent, found himself at the center of a national media
feeding frenzy in 2008, having become the subject of a largely
contrived and self-perpetuating storyline of a “cult leader” requiring
sex with the young virgins in his apocalyptic church while falsely
predicting the end of the world. While this fiction had mass appeal
and was much more interesting than the truth, it resulted in a highly
charged criminal case involving his healing practices with two teenage
sisters. Caught up in the maelstrom of publicity and unable, or
unwilling, to separate my father’s media created persona from the
actual events called into question, the court failed in its role to
stick with the facts and the law, delivering a great injustice to my
father and his church.
This outcome should be of concern to everyone that understands the
importance of a legal system that protects people equally under the
law, especially unpopular minorities who may find themselves targeted
by the media’s powerful ability to mold public perceptions.
The facts of my father’s criminal case are as follows:
1. My father was charged with two counts of criminal sexual contact
with a minor (CSM), and two counts of contributing to the delinquency
of a minor (CDM). He was acquitted on one count of CSM, and convicted
on the other counts.
2. These charges stemmed from a religious healing practice where the
teenaged minors asked to be in his presence unclothed. These
encounters were for the purpose of healing prior emotional trauma in a
safe setting. These encounters were decidedly and emphatically
non-sexual in nature. The minors’ parents were not unaware of the
healing practices some in the church were requesting of Mr. Bent. It
was a subject of open discussion within the church.
3. It was common for Wayne Bent, when he was still ministering to his
flock, to put his hand on the sternum above the heart, just below the
clavicle. He did this to invest the soul of that person with his own
peace. It is believed by Mr. Bent that the heart is where the soul
4. Witness A.S., age 16 at the time, was one of the minors who
requested of Wayne Bent to be in a state of naked vulnerability in his
presence so she could release prior emotional trauma that blocked her
from Oneness with God. This non-sexual 15 minute session with A.S. is
what resulted in my father’s conviction on one count of CSM. A.S.
left the church and chose a different lifestyle a couple of years
before this case went to trial. The other witness – her younger
sister – remains part of my father’s church.
5. A.S. testified that my father, Wayne Bent, placed his hand on her
sternum over her heart. When asked if his hand touched any portion of
her breast, she replied, “I don’t remember.” The prosecutor asked if
Mr. Bent placed his hand anywhere else on her body. She answered,
“Not that I recall.”
6. A.S. said Mr. Bent kissed her on her “breast.” When asked to show
the court where he kissed her, she pointed to an area on her chest
below her left clavicle and above the pillow portion of her breast.
There were significant questions during the trial of what constitutes
a breast that were never answered.
7. Defense attorney Sarah Montoya showed witness A.S. a Barbie doll
wearing a bikini and asked her if Mr. Bent touched her anywhere on her
body where the Barbie was covered by the bikini. She answered, “No.”
Ms. Montoya asked “Are you sure?” A.S. replied, “Yes.”
8. My father, Wayne Bent, testified under oath that he never touched
the breasts of either witness.
9. During a bench conference with counsel at closing arguments, Judge
Gerald Baca can be heard on the record whispering, “There’s no
evidence to support that there was ever a touching of the breast.”
10. During closing arguments, the prosecutor told the jury multiple
times that the witnesses both testified that they were touched on the
breasts by Mr. Bent. This falsehood, as well as others uttered by the
prosecutor, helped sway the jury in the direction of conviction,
according to one juror who was interviewed afterwards by The Alibi
11. Judge Baca sentenced my father to 18 years in prison, with 8
years suspended. He also received 8 years supervised probation and
must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
To say the least, my father did not receive justice at his trial. The
State failed to meet any reasonable burden of proof that my father had
broken the law. Much of the trial consisted of testimony from the
State’s witnesses about my father’s controversial religious beliefs.
Having controversial beliefs is not a crime in New Mexico.
The sentence he received is incredible beyond belief, being extremely
disproportionate by any measure of comparison. The sentence for
murder in the second degree is 14 years. The day before my father
received his sentence, a high school coach in Alamogordo was sentenced
to ten months work release for having sexual intercourse multiple
times with a 16 year old student at his mother’s apartment. This year
a fire captain in Rio Rancho received probation for having sexual
intercourse with a 15 year old multiple times in the fire house.
My father has been turned down twice for a bond that he is legally
entitled to receive during his appeal. Why is that? Why is this
frail, physically at risk 68 year old man such as threat to everyone?
Why is the State so determined to keep him locked away?
My father is mindful of the fact that the courts are heavily
influenced by public opinion regarding his case, and not the facts and
the law. There are no political costs for keeping him in prison, but
justice has taken a back seat to political expediency.
This is why my father is now on a religious fast, and will not end his
fast until there is movement in the direction of justice, or he dies.
He was wrongly convicted and wrongly incarcerated as a result of a
modern-day witch-hunt, and he cannot continue to be a party to this
travesty of justice.