By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Homicide defendant Jimmy Bentley sat unflinching Thursday as the judge announced the guilty verdict.
Behind the defense table, Bentley’s wife dropped her head in her hands, her shoulders wracked with sobs.
Across the courtroom aisle, the sister of shooting victim Joseph Phillips gently rubbed her mother’s back, her face showing restrained happiness.
Bentley, 72, of Farmington, was found guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the Christmas Eve shooting death of Phillips, a 48-year-old photo salesman from Guthrie, Okla.
Bentley faces a maximum of 22 years in prison and will be sentenced at a later date, according to District Attorney Matt Chandler.
Sarah W. Phillips, Joseph’s mother, called the verdict “bittersweet.”
“I felt some justice had to be done for my son,” said Sarah Phillips, who attended the four-day trial with two of her daughters. “I’m glad it was done as far as his death but what’s done is done.”
DeNatalie Phillips, sister of the victim, thanked prosecutors for their diligence in pursuing justice for her brother.
“I felt like the rightful thing that should happen has. It’s good to know there are systems in place that work and people that uphold those systems.”
Minutes after the verdict was read, Bentley’s wife, Linda, hugged the victim’s mother and could be overheard telling her: “We wanted to apologize to your family for all the heartache we caused. I wanted you to know, Jim’s not a racist. He didn’t know he was black.”
Sarah Phillips hugged her in return, holding her for a moment before moving to hug Bentley’s daughter and other family members.
“I know it’s been hard on both sides. The members of the family didn’t do the shooting — Jimmy Bentley did — and I know they’re hurting also,” she said regarding her exchange of affection with Linda Bentley.
Linda Bentley declined direct comment.