Hearing planned on sect leader's release

The Taos News/January 7, 2016

By Andrew Oxford

The leader of a Christian sect convicted of sex crimes in 2008 could soon be released from prison as he undergoes treatment for skin cancer.

A lawyer representing the New Mexico Corrections Department has requested a hearing for clarification on the decision of a judge in November to free Wayne Bent, 74.

Judge Abigail Aragon ordered Bent’s release no later than Dec. 31, 2015. But in a motion filed Dec. 23, 2015, a lawyer for the state’s prison system suggested that deadline would be statutorily impossible, noting a parole plan must be devised and hearings convened.

A hearing on the changes to Bent’s sentence is scheduled Jan. 26 at the Eighth Judicial District Court in Taos.

Bent has served approximately seven years of a 10-year sentence imposed for his 2008 conviction on charges of criminal sexual contact of a minor in the second degree and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The septuagenarian is regarded as “a messiah” by members of the Lord of Our Righteousness Church, which he founded in 1987 and is based at a compound near Clayton. Bent was convicted of inappropriate sexual behavior with two teenage sisters in 2006 during what the church argued was a religious ceremony.

The ceremony was part of a series known as the “pouring out of the plagues.”

During the ceremonies, which were part of carrying out the church’s interpretation of the biblical book of Revelation, seven virgins – or “messengers” – lay with Bent.

Where, exactly, he laid his hands on them has been a matter of contention.

His victim, who was 16 at the time, maintains he placed his hand on her heart rather than breast.

Bent was acquitted of criminal sexual contact with her sister, who was 14 at the time of the incident.

The case was tried in Taos, drawing international media attention.

Bent’s conviction was the beginning of a legal odyssey that led to the state supreme court.

In modifying Bent’s sentence, Aragon wrote it is in the interests of justice for him to be released to receive further medical treatment. She ordered Bent to be placed on supervised probation, register as a sex offender, participate in an outpatient sex offender treatment program, not have any contact with children under the age of 18 and undergo drug or polygraph testing.

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