Mental care sought for suspect

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer

A Clovis judge ruled Tuesday a 72-year-old murder defendant be sent to the Department of Corrections so he may receive psychiatric care while he awaits trial.

Jimmy Bentley’s mental condition has deteriorated since being in the jail, according to the testimony of Leslie Johnson, administrator of the Curry County Adult Detention Center. Several times detention officers have observed Bentley exhibiting confused, paranoid and delusional behavior, Johnson said.

Bentley is charged with the December shooting death of Joseph Phillips, 48, of Guthrie, Okla., at the Econo Lodge on Mabry Drive.
Originally released on house arrest under monitor by an ankle bracelet, Bentley was returned to jail in May when concerns about the reliability of a 24-hour electronic monitoring system was questioned.

According to testimony, Johnson approached defense attorney Randy Knudson shortly after Bentley arrived at the jail and told him she was concerned about Bentley’s behavior.

On one occasion, a detention officer went into his cell and “he was worried about a boat or something that was up in the top of his cell,” Johnson said during testimony. On other occasions he has been seen having conversations with people who are not there, she said.

Johnson expressed concerns if his condition were to worsen, her staff may not be able to deal with him and he may become a danger to them or himself.

There is no contract in place to provide inmates psychiatric care while housed at the jail, Johnson said.

Defense attorney Randy Knudson told Judge Joe Parker his intent in asking to move Bentley was purely for medical reasons and not to develop a lack of competency defense.

Bentley is scheduled to be tried in late August.

Knudson presented the judge with an evaluation by Dr. Samuel Roll, who determined Bentley to have strong tendencies toward schizophrenia and paranoia and said those issues were likely pre-existing to the homicide.

A motion by prosecutor Christina Tatum that Bentley be held financially responsible for his psychiatric care was approved by the judge. Tatum argued when an inmate has a preexisting condition it is not the responsibility of the state to provide financially for care.