Linda Bentley, left, wife of defendant Jimmy Bentley and Sarah W. Phillips, mother of shooting victim Joseph Phiilips, embrace after the guilty verdict was read Thursday at the Curry County Court House. CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
A Clovis jury on Thursday found Jimmy Bentley guilty of second-degree murder for the Christmas Eve shooting death of an Oklahoma photo salesman.
The announcement capped a four-day trial in the 9th Judicial District Court in which prosecutors argued Bentley’s shooting of Joseph Phillips, 48, outside a Clovis hotel was racially motivated. Phillips is black. Bentley is white.
Bentley faces a maximum of 22 years in prison, according to 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler.
Judge Joe Parker ordered Bentley undergo a 60-day evaluation before sentencing.
In closing arguments, Chandler told jurors, “Today is a day of holding a man accountable for his actions. He was 72 years old, but he was a time bomb waiting to go off.”
The defense argued Bentley, of Farmington, was suffering from chronic psychotic conditions causing him to perceive a threat when Phillips approached him outside the Econo Lodge on Mabry Drive.
“This is a great tragedy, but Mr. Bentley did not murder him because Mr. Bentley did not intend to murder him — that’s the flaw in the state’s case,” defense attorney Randy Knudson said in his closing argument.
“Jim Bentley is a 72-year-old taxpayer with a life of no problems who was in fear for his life.”
Chandler implored jurors to question Bentley’s self-defense argument.
“I do understand he’s a 72-year-old man and he’s a taxpayer, but that doesn’t give you a license to kill,” Chandler said.
Phillips was an unarmed man and showed no signs of aggression as he approached Bentley, Chandler said.
Parker told the jury before it went into deliberation that it had three options:
• Find Bentley guilty of second-degree murder;
• Find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter;
• Or find he was acting in self-defense and therefore not guilty.
Comprised of six men and six women, the jury took three hours to reach a verdict.
Bentley was acquitted on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The assault charges stemmed from allegations he pointed a gun at Phillips’ cab driver, Richard Barry, telling him to leave the scene.
Barry testified Phillips had gotten out of his cab to finish a cigar when Bentley raised his gun and shot him in the face.