TAOS, N.M. (AP) – Jurors in Taos on Monday convicted the leader of an apocalyptic northeastern New Mexico sect on one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Jurors deliberated for more than five hours Friday without reaching a verdict in the charges against Wayne Bent, and state District Judge Gerald Baca sent them home for the weekend.
Bent, leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church, faced two counts each of criminal sexual contact of a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor in allegations involving 14- and 16-year old sisters in 2006.
Prosecutor Emilio Chavez told jurors the case was not about religion and that Bent must be treated like anyone else.
In court, Bent testified that he did lay naked in bed with teenage girls in 2006 at the Lord Our Righteousness Church’s Strong City compound near Clayton.
He had been accused of inappropriately touching the girls, but claimed he only touched them in the heart in a non-sexual manner. He and one of the girls claimed it was simply a spiritual experience.
Bent has vowed that if convicted, he would stop eating and wait for God to take him.
Wayne Bent, 67, was found guilty of one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He is the self-described Messiah and leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church in New Mexico.
“Just as with Jesus, they’ve convicted an innocent man,” Bent said after the verdict.
Bent, who calls himself Michael Travesser, faced two counts each of criminal sexual contact of a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor in allegations involving two sisters, ages 14 and 16, in 2006. He was acquitted on the criminal sexual contact charge involving the younger girl.
His court-appointed lawyer, Sarah Montoya of Raton, said she expects to file an appeal.
“It was really about religion,” she said. “He was convicted because of prejudice.”
The younger girl, now 17, said in an interview after the verdict that she was happy to hear Bent was cleared on the more serious of the counts involving her.
Following the verdict, Bent said that God had told him that he would be convicted.
“Just as Jesus, they convicted an innocent man,” he said.
The judge will allow the convicted child molestor to return back home to his cult compound in Union County until sentencing.
Wayne Bent’s son says the conviction means an end for his father, but not for the church.
“He’s finished here, he has nothing more to do here. I would regard, personally, this sentence is a death sentence. I don’t think he’ll be there very long. He’s told me many times, he’s not going to be in prison very long,” said Jeff Bent.
Bent will return to the courtroom at the end of this month for sentencing. He faces a maximum of 18 years behind bars.