Random thoughts on a variety of subjects
While I am of the opinion that a better defense might have freed Bent, I think that the way the case was presented, the jury made the correct decision. If the defense had rested after the cross examination of the two “victims,” then possibly a reasonable doubt would have been present. Most people don’t realize (or forget) that the defense is not required to prove anything (the accused is innocent until proven guilty). The entire “burden of proof” rests with the prosecution and they have to establish guilt, “beyond” even the tiniest bit of a “reasonable doubt.” The jury must start with a “presumption of innocence.” Those cross examinations introduced enough information to have raised several sticking questions. The defense could (and should) have rested their case after the prosecution concluded their presentation. That would have been their very best tactic.
But, the defense didn’t do that… they instead launched a vigorous defense and, most significantly, the defense really made the fatal mistake of putting the accused (remember, he is presumed innocent and doesn’t have to testify) on the stand (and he admitted what the prosecution was saying he did). You must realize that the testimony of the accused, concerning any admission, would take precedence over the statements of any “alleged” victim, because often victims in sexual manipulation cases have been groomed by their abusers (to the point where the victims often are “in love” with the perpetrator, as you saw in one of the victims here).
Now, after Bent admitted to having placed his hand on the naked girls’ chests, he really sealed his fate. The facet of this case, which many persons, who are commenting on these proceedings, don’t seem to understand is that it was immaterial whether his intent was sexual or not or whether there was any attempt for sexual gratification. And, it did not matter if it was being done as purely a “religious healing act” or any other lofty purpose. The law doesn’t distinguish on the basis of purpose or intent. The law merely prohibits an adult (in a position of authority using that authority) from any “intentional” touching of any intimate (meaning private, as in normally clothed) area of a child (and the breast is defined that way). The moment an adult “intentionally” touches the intimate area of a child, he has violated the law (and it becomes. “Criminal sexual contact of a minor”). The only exception would be a licensed medical doctor in the course of a medical examination or treatment. Other health practitioners (such as massage therapists) don’t even have that right. Bent’s position, that he was doing a totally naked healing exercise in his bedroom on his bed (even with the excuse that he was in his jockey shorts) really doesn’t reasonably rise to the level of an appropriate therapeutic (certainly not state-licensed) environment. Religious freedom does not allow the violation of prohibitions provided by that law.
The prosecutor did an excellent summary in delineating and defining the law and in separating that what was needed for conviction was “distinct” from any need for proof of sexual intent for sexual gratification. Bent admitted that he placed his hand on the naked child’s sternum. The jury decision was reduced to its most simple terms… “Was it reasonable that his wide hand could have been placed there without touching the breast? ” Well the truth is, “No, it couldn’t.” They had no other choice than to vote for a guilty verdict.
Jurors considering that the other witness was not being truthful (they were correct in their assumption) about Bent not being the leader goes directly to the consideration of whether Bent was “a position of authority over the child” and used that authority to “coerce the child to submit.” If they thought that witness was lying about that… then it set the stage, removing any doubt about whether Bent was in that position of authority. Putting a non-credible “Gabriel” on the stand to swear to what (the facts from outside the courtroom later show) was not truthful testimony, was a cardinal defense error, because his apparent deceptiveness confirmed to jurors particulars about that requirement for a second degree felony. The defense should have kept this all very, very simple, instead of making the mistake of trying to prove innocence.
Then for the prosecution to remove all traces of doubt (after all of that), only Bent’s testimony was needed and in light of his on-the-stand admission. The prosecutor wasted no words in making sure the distinctions, defining the crime, was very, very narrow.