Suspect arraigned in motel slaying

Linda Bentley talks with defense attorney Randy Knudson after Bentley’s husband, homicide suspect Jimmy Bentley, was arraigned Wednesday in Magistrate Court. (Staff photo: Andrew Chavez)

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

Prosecutor Matt Chandler said in court Wednesday the Christmas Eve slaying of a 48-year-old black man may have been racially motivated.

The defense attorney representing the accused killer, however, said his client may have felt threatened prior to the shooting.

Accused killer Jimmy Bentley, 71, has no criminal history of violence and may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and unfit to stand trial, attorney Randy Knudson told Magistrate Judge Richard Hollis during Bentley’s video arraignment.

Hollis declined to reduce Bentley’s bond, which is set at $100,000 cash. Hollis said future conditions for release will be determined in district court.

Knudson told the court his client is not guilty of murder in connection with Saturday night’s slaying of Joseph Phillips, 48. Police said Phillips was shot to death in the parking lot of the Econo Lodge motel in Clovis. Officials have said the victim and suspect did not know each other.

Chandler said he believes the slaying could have been racially motivated because of Bentley’s nickname — Lynching Lloyd.

Knudson, however, said the nickname he received from a Farmington gun club was meant to be funny and silly.
Knudson said Bentley may have been concerned about drug dealing at the motel and concerned for his safety just prior to the shooting.

Knudson said Bentley, 71, has acted disoriented in phone calls he’s made since his arrest. In the calls, Knudson said Bentley is not clear that he is in Clovis.

Chandler agreed Bentley should be allowed doctor visitation, but only via transport by Curry County Detention Center guards.

Chandler said Phillips, a photograph package salesman from Oklahoma, was staying at a room in the motel with a fellow employee who was ill. Before getting shot, Phillips called a cab to go to a drug store to buy medicine, Chandler said.

The cab picked Phillips up outside the motel. Officials said Phillips then exited the cab to smoke a cigar. The shooting occurred after a short exchange of words between the suspect and victim, officials have said.

After the shooting, Bentley’s niece and wife told police from their motel room, “You are blowing this out of proportion,” and “This is not a big deal,” records show.

Knudson said outside court Wednesday that the women were referring to a ringing cell phone and treatment they received from police, not Phillips’ shooting death.

Bentley has been held at the Curry County Adult Detention Center since Dec. 25. He will go before a grand jury next week, where charges will be determined, Chandler said.