Judge questions system monitoring homicide suspect

An employee of Hanks Bail Bonds shows an ankle bracelet that monitors the movement of suspects on bail to ensure they are following court-ordered restrictions. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A Clovis judge held a hearing Monday to determine why an ankle bracelet used to track homicide defendant Jimmy Bentley isn’t working properly.

Ninth Judicial District Judge Joe Parker is concerned that between Feb. 22 and April 18 there were daily periods when Bentley was unaccounted for, according to reports from Sure Trac, a Clovis ankle bracelet monitoring company.

Bentley, 72, of Farmington, is awaiting trial in the Christmas Eve shooting death of Joseph Phillips, 48, of Guthrie, Okla. Phillips and Bentley were staying at the Econo Lodge on Mabry Drive. Police have said they did not know each other.

Bentley was released on bond Jan. 31 under court order to remain in Clovis and submit to a 24-hour ankle bracelet monitoring system.
Defense attorney Randy Knudson said Wednesday he expressed hope the judge will not penalize his client by revoking bond.

“The judge has legitimate concerns, but the issues really are technological and Mr. Bentley has completely complied with the order of the court,” Knudson said.

Becky Duffield, owner of Sure Trac, acknowledges there have been many instances where Bentley’s bracelet has not signaled the receiver as reflected by the reports. She says in each case confirmation of his whereabouts was made either by phone or in person.

“Every time he has been called or had physical checks (made), he has been there,” Duffield said. She said Bentley has been cooperative throughout his house arrest.

Living with his wife’s family under conditions of his release, Duffield said Bentley and his wife placed a travel trailer in the back yard of the home so they could have more privacy. The move to the trailer, Duffield said, caused some of the issues because the transmitter was too far away. Other factors such as the wiring in older homes can cause interference with the device, she said, making telephone calls and confirmation visits critical.

Parker heard some of Duffield’s arguments in court and expressed concern that the system was less than satisfactory.

“(The) ankle bracelet needs to be monitoring him 24 hours a day. If it’s not being followed up on, then he needs to be placed in (the Curry County Detention Center),” Parker said.

Since the hearing, Bentley has begun sleeping in the home on the couch in order to be closer to the unit, Duffield said. An upgrade to a GPS unit was ordered Tuesday. Duffield said the GPS unit will pinpoint his exact location, and it is hoped will resolve the issues to satisfy the court, Duffield said.

“Everybody is making a valiant effort to make this system work to appease the judge,” she said.

Bentley and his family pay $87.50 a week to utilize the house arrest system, Duffield said, in addition to a $150,000 cash bond paid at the time of his release.

A second hearing has been scheduled Monday to revisit the matter. The judge could issue a decision at that point, Knudson said.