Religious leader to stay in prison pending appeal

Associated Press/August 22, 2011

Santa Fe, New Mexico -- Religious group leader Wayne Bent will remain in prison while prosecutors fight to have his convictions reinstated for sexual misconduct with teenage followers.

The state Court of Appeals on Friday denied a request by Bent's lawyer to have his client released from prison as the attorney general's office appeals the court's decision in June that tossed out Bent's convictions. The court gave no explanation for denying Bent's release.

Bent was sentenced in 2008 to 10 years in prison for criminal sexual contact with a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The court overturned those convictions in June, ruling that a grand jury's term had expired months before it returned an indictment against Bent and that a district judge didn't have the power to extend the time for the grand jury to meet.

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.

The attorney general's office has until later this week to file a planned appeal with the state Supreme Court.

Bent's son, Jeff, said he expects the Supreme Court will decline to consider the prosecutor's appeal and that it will lead to the release of his 70-year-old father.

"Members of his church, as well as his children and siblings, are earnestly looking forward to his release from prison. This has been a long, difficult ordeal, not just for my dad but all those who love him," Jeff Bent said in an email to The Associated Press.

Wayne Bent is in a state prison in Los Lunas.

"My father is in good health. He is optimistic that he will be home with his family before long," said Jeff Bent.

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.

Bent was accused of lying in bed with naked 14- and 16-year-old sisters in separate incidents in 2006. He and the girls testified that the incidents were spiritual exercises and nothing happened sexually.

The teens said Bent did not touch intimate areas. Bent testified he had placed his hands on the sternums, but not the breasts, of the girls.

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