Trial of cult leader Wayne Bent opens

New Mexico sect leader’s molestation trial opens

Toas, New Mexico: The leader of an apocalyptic religious sect in New Mexico had inappropriate contact with teenage sisters, prosecutors said at the outset of his trial on molestation charges.

Wayne Bent, 67, lay in bed naked and “chest to chest, skin to skin” with a 14-year-old girl, Deputy District Attorney Tomas Benavidez told jurors. He had a similar encounter with her 16-year-old sister, the prosecutor said.

Bent, a self-described Messiah and leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church, is charged with two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

His attorney, Sarah Montoya of Raton, acknowledged that Bent touched the naked girls but said he never sexually molested them or committed any other crime during the 2006 encounters.

The prosecutor told jurors that they would hear testimony that Bent kissed both girls on the lips. The older girl will testify that she was kissed “on the upper part of her breast,” he said.

Benavidez said the younger girl does not consider herself to have been sexually abused. He said she wants to return to the sect’s compound, Strong City, near the New Mexico-Colorado border town of Clayton — from which children have been removed — “and be Wayne Bent’s wife.”

Montoya said the girl “considers herself married to God,” not to Bent.

State police agent Matthew Martinez testified that Bent told him he had touched the girls in “a healing type of manner,” and that Bent said he put his hand on their sternums.

Montoya also described it as a healing exercise. She said the younger girl will testify that “after he laid his hand on her she did feel closer to God.”

Bent said at one point that he would not participate in the legal proceedings because he believes he could not get a fair trial, but he sat with his lawyer in the courtroom and listened intently to opening statements and the testimony of the first witnesses.

About three dozen of Bent’s followers attended Monday’s proceedings.

Bent, who calls himself Michael Travesser, was a minister for the Seventh-day Adventist Church but separated from that church 21 years ago and continued to preach. He claims God spoke to him in 2000 and told him he was the Messiah.

– Source: New Mexico sect leader’s molestation trial opens, AP via the International Herald Tribune, Dec. 9, 2008

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This post was last updated: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 1:53 PM, Central European Time (CET)