Homicide defendant testifies to self-defense

CNJ Staff Photo: Tony Bullocks
Homicide defendent Jimmy Bentley demonstrates during Wednesday’s trial how he held the pistol the night he shot an Oklahoma man outside a Clovis motel.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Editor’s note: The following report contains a racial slur.

Murder defendant Jimmy Bentley on Wednesday adamantly denied using a racial slur when police arrested him for a Christmas Eve shooting death and jurors heard testimony that the shooting was in self-defense.

On Tuesday, prosecution witnesses testified Bentley used a racial slur the night he was arrested in connection with the shooting of Joseph Phillips, a 48-year-old black man from Oklahoma. Bentley is white.

Prosecutors contend the shooting was racially motivated.

The defense says Bentley feared Phillips was going to attack him, which prompted the shooting in a Clovis hotel parking lot.

Under questioning by defense attorney Randy Knudson on Wednesday, Bentley, 72, described his childhood in Tennessee during the post-Depression era, recalling segregation in his youth and saying he was not raised to be racist.

When asked by Knudson what his response was to allegations he used a racial slur to describe the victim, Bentley said, “I don’t think I said it. I don’t care who said what, I don’t use that word.”

Clovis Police Officer Paul Crowe testified Tuesday that Bentley inquired about his victim as he was being escorted from the scene, asking, “He was a nigger, wasn’t he?”

Under cross-examination by District Attorney Matt Chandler, Bentley repeatedly denied allegations of racism.

Bentley also explained what happened the night he shot Phillips.

Bentley said he was concerned because throughout the day he had observed what he took to be drug activity at the Econo Lodge on Mabry Drive where he was staying.
When Phillips exited a cab and approached him and his niece that night, Bentley said he felt they were about to be attacked. He described Phillips as a big man — at least 6 feet tall.

“He looked like a monster — he was big,” Bentley said.

A medical investigator testified earlier in the day Phillips was 5-feet-10 and 210 pounds. Bentley is 6 feet tall, according to earlier testimony.

Bentley described Phillips coming toward him at a fast pace with a “big smile” on his face.

“My gun, actually I felt, went off. … I had it on the man. I had it cocked. When I took my thumb off the hammer, ‘kaboom,’ it went, Bentley said.

“I told him to stay away, I didn’t like the way he was acting.”

Bentley’s voice filled the courtroom as Knudson played a 911 tape of his call to authorities after the shooting.

“I’m the one that pulled the trigger,” he told the operator on the phone.
“The man jumped out of the cab and tried to assault me. I’m in my room. … It looked like he was going to accost us.”

As his testimony under cross-examination drew to a close, Bentley told Chandler softly. “The gun went off and I killed a man. Sorry.”

Prosecutors rested their case just before the noon recess Wednesday.

The defense said it plans to call more witnesses today, including Bentley’s wife, Linda Bentley.