New Mexico sect leader accused anew of sex abuse

Associated Press/May 20, 2008

Sante Fe, New Mexico - The leader of an apocalyptic sect in New Mexico who already faced sexual abuse charges was indicted Tuesday in a new court on suspicion of sex crimes against two young female followers.

Wayne Bent, 67, who heads The Lord Our Righteousness Church, initially had been charged in magistrate court with crimes against three girls who previously lived on the church's compound in a remote area near the Colorado line.

District Attorney Donald Gallegos said he made the decision to pursue indictments - shifting the case to district court - to avoid an open preliminary hearing in magistrate court in which the girls could have been subjected to cross-examination by Bent's attorney.

The court-appointed lawyer, Sarah Montoya, did not return a call left after business hours Tuesday.

Bent was indicted Tuesday by a grand jury in Clayton on two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Gallegos said.

Gallegos said he decided not to present evidence to grand jurors in the case of the third girl because "more work needs to be done."

The girls told authorities they "lay naked" with Bent, who claims to be the Messiah. Bent has denied any molestation occurred, and his followers say the charges are false.

The magistrate court charges were dropped, and the criminal case now will proceed in state district court. The charges are felonies.

The suspected abuse would have occurred in 2006. The girls are now 17 and 16. The case that was dropped involved a girl who was 12 at the time, Gallegos said.

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