Abuse victims speak at sentencing

Although the facts of a child abuse case left Montrose County Judge Ben Morris angry, the “magnanimous” statements of two young victims factored into him accepting a plea deal that called for deferred judgment.

Kerry Bentler, who with her husband, Christopher, had been summonsed into court in 2016 on allegations of child abuse, previously pleaded guilty to three counts of non-injury, reckless child abuse and one count of child abuse causing injury, according to court records.

On Wednesday, she received a two-year probation sentence as a condition of a deferred judgment and if she adheres to all conditions, no conviction will enter.

Christopher Bentler, a former Delta police officer, is charged with 10 misdemeanor counts, including one that alleges he used his Taser against one of his foster children and another charge, which alleges he engaged in a pattern of conduct that “resulted in malnourishment, cruel punishment and mistreatment that resulted in any injury to the child.”

He has pleaded not-guilty and is set for trial.

Wednesday, two of the Bentler’s former foster children testified at Kerry Bentler’s hearing. Each in turn said the experience had shaped them.

“I have experienced inhumane things. … It has given me an ability to help other people who are not as capable as I am,” one of the boys said, via video feed from his new home out of state.

He indicated he was grateful to have been made stronger, but questioned Bentler’s motives and why she thought what she did was OK.

“Nothing makes sense to me,” the teen said.

He later told Morris he feels guilty for not being able to help other children who were with him in the home at the time.

“I really want (the others) to receive all the help they possibly need and not be treated like victims. I want them to be treated like survivors,” he said.

A second former foster child also spoke Wednesday, telling Morris how children in the Bentler home had to work at healing themselves.

“What did we do to deserve the violence that we got, the non-love?” he said.

The youth recounted having turned to alcohol to quench his thirst when his request for a drink of water was denied. He also said he was beaten in the face, was forced to steal food in order to have anything to eat, and that he constantly questioned what he had done to deserve maltreatment. Only when he ran away, he said, did he feel free.

“It’s been a battle. I have overcome a lot of it,” the youth said.

The boy also alleged Christopher Bentler had tasered him in the back as punishment over missing candy, although public defender Nicholas Kreider sharply disputed that and said Mr. Bentler’s Taser logs did not show a discharge at the time alleged.

Kreider in his argument also said the Bentlers had taken in children with past trauma, including their first foster child, who wound up committing a serious crime.

The boys involved in the present case had such significant disciplinary problems at school that Kerry Bentler could no longer work, but had to be available to respond at all times.

She was trying to teach the children in the home a different way, one that would set them up for not having legal troubles as adults, Kreider said.

“The Bentlers knew what was at stake if they did not correct course,” he said.

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services had been to the Bentler home multiple times on abuse allegations that were found “not credible,” Kreider said.

Other children in the home may have latched onto stories and repeated them, to the point that outsiders would have difficulty discerning what actually happened, he said.

The child who appeared in person Wednesday said he was more interested in Kerry Bentler receiving help than punishment.

“It takes a monster or a demon inside them to do that. I think they need help. … It felt like my life was in their hands,” he said.

The boy who appeared by video feed said he did not care to ever hear of Bentler again and opted not to stay on the call after giving his statement.

“I want to let Kerry know she hasn’t won and never will,” he said.

Deputy District Attorney Aubrey Vila admitted the case affected her. Even prisoners get three meals a day and water, she said.

“That’s what sticks out to the People. Having children say to you ‘I was not fed’ … is hard to (fathom).”

Vila asked for Bentler to be sentenced as agreed upon: a year of supervised probation, followed by a year of unsupervised probation; a mental health evaluation and recommended treatment, and to relinquish foster care licensure.

Kreider later said the latter has already taken place and the Bentlers have no interest in ever fostering again.

Morris said the case is among the most difficult he’s handled as a judge.

“Frankly, I’m impressed with how (boys) were able to speak to the court. I think they’re very brave to be able to stand up and say it,” Morris said.

Most times, he accepts plea agreements as presented, but this case was harder, he added.

“I’m a judge, but I’m a human being first. Reading about this case makes me angry,” Morris said.

However, the victims “were magnanimous” and are not seeking revenge, so he felt compelled to listen to them, the judge added. The sentence called for also is rehabilitative.

Because of those factors, Morris accepted the plea agreement and imposed the sentence, along with 60 days of jail, suspended, as an incentive for Bentler to successfully complete her deferred judgment.

Prior to the sentence coming down, both boys shared their plans.

The boy who now lives out of state said he hopes to get a business degree and become a philanthropist to help kids who go through what he endured.

“I want to provide them with the support I didn’t have. No matter how … hopeless life seems to be, it’s just simply not the case,” he said.

“I absolutely refused to become a person like Kerry and Christopher Bentler.”

The second child said he was stronger for overcoming what happened. He hopes to join the NFL and use his experience as a point of inspiration for others.

“I lived through what I would say is hell, I guess,” the teen said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

Montrose Daily Press | November 2, 2018
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