New Mexico attorney general's office to appeal ruling that overturned sect leader's conviction

Associated Press/July 8, 2011

Albuquerque, New Mexico - The New Mexico attorney general's office says it will appeal a ruling that tossed out the convictions of a small religious sect leader serving 10 years for sexual contact with two teenage followers.

The Court of Appeals last week ruled a grand jury's term had expired months before it returned an indictment against Wayne Bent, and that a district judge didn't have the power to extend it. A three-judge panel of the court sent the case back to district court and ordered the 70-year-old released from custody.

A spokesman for Attorney General Gary King said the office will appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court. He said the office also will fight attempts to have Bent released from prison while the case is appealed.

Bent's attorney, John McCall, has filed a motion seeking his release outright or on an appeal bond.

Bent was sentenced in 2008 for criminal sexual contact with a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He has been in a state prison in Los Lunas.

Bent, who calls himself Michael Travesser, is the leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church. Its followers live in a compound they call Strong City in a rural area near the community of Clayton, close to the New Mexico-Colorado border.

Bent was a minister for the Seventh-day Adventist Church but separated from it more than 20 years ago. He claims God spoke to him in 2000 and told him he was the Messiah.

A jury convicted Bent of the felonies for lying in bed with naked 14- and 16-year-old sisters in separate incidents in 2006.

Bent and the sisters testified the incidents were spiritual exercises and nothing happened sexually. The teens said Bent did not touch intimate areas, and Bent testified he had placed his hands on the sternums, but not the breasts, of the girls.

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