April 30: John Sayer speaks at a cafe in Clayton, N.M., about his experience as a member of an apocalyptic church.
Jurors on Monday convicted the leader of an apocalyptic northeastern New Mexico sect of one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Wayne Bent, the self-described Messiah and leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church, faced two counts each of criminal sexual contact of a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor in allegations involving 14- and 16-year old sisters in July and August 2006.
Bent, 67, testified last week he placed his hand on the sternums, but not the breasts, of the teenagers as they lay naked with him in separate incidents. He said he was careful that the spiritual healing exercises with the sisters not take a sexual turn.
An ex-member of the church said in May that Bent "said God told him that he was supposed to sleep with seven virgins."
His court-appointed lawyer, Sarah Montoya, said she hopes Bent would allow her to appeal the conviction.
He was allowed to return to Strong City, the sect's compound near Clayton, pending sentencing, tentatively set for Dec. 29.
Bent, who calls himself Michael Travesser, could face a dozen years in prison for the three convictions. He was acquitted on the criminal sexual contact charge involving the younger girl.
"God's in control and my heart's with Michael, and it's like wherever he goes, that's where my heart is," the younger girl, now 17, said in an interview after the verdict.
The girl, known in the church as Healed, was happy to hear he was found not guilty on the more serious of the counts involving her.
"It was a religious healing experience for me. ... It had nothing to do with sex," she said. "It had to do with healing to my heart."
She and Bent were allowed to meet briefly after the verdict. Montoya said that was a promise the district attorney made to the girl before the trial.
Bent said after the verdict he was falsely convicted.
"I'm the marker for the destruction of this society ... the culture just judged itself," said Bent, who said the verdict was part of God's plan.
"These encounters with these two girls were intended to offend your world and make you mad and convict me," he said.
His son, Jeff Bent, said church followers were not discouraged. "It's just part of our prophetic time that we're in," he said.
Wayne Bent has said he probably would not eat if he went to prison and that he wouldn't expect to survive the experience.
His son said Monday, "I would regard this sentence as a death sentence for him."