Jimmy Bentley, left, and defense attorney Randy Knudson listen to Sarah W. Phillips, mother of victim Joseph “J.J.” Phillips, give testimony during Bentley’s sentencing hearing Monday at the Curry County Courthouse. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Her shoulders trembling, Linda Bentley hung her head and hid her eyes after learning Monday her husband was sentenced to 16 years in prison in connection with the Christmas Eve shooting of an Oklahoma photo salesman.
The decision came after more than an hour of impassioned speeches by family members and attorneys for convicted killer Jimmy Bentley, 72, and the victim, Joseph “J.J.” Phillips Jr.
DeNatalie Phillips, the victim’s sister, said she was satisfied with the decision as family gathered in the hall outside the courtroom.
“You can’t put a price on a human life, but a senseless killing has to be paid for. It was an unprovoked killing — my brother did nothing wrong. My hope was that Mr. Bentley would spend the rest of his life in jail, and I think at his age that’s what will happen.”
Bentley shot Phillips, 48, at close range as the victim approached him in the parking lot of the Econo Lodge on Christmas Eve, according to court testimony. Bentley testified in his August trial he felt threatened by Phillips, who he said was smiling as he walked toward him.
A Guthrie, Okla., resident, Phillips was working in Clovis during the holiday season.
“Your honor, I’m very, very sorry,” Jimmy Bentley said as he addressed the judge. “Believe me, I’m very remorseful about this. I’m very sorry. I’ve been a law-abiding citizen for 72 years.”
Phillips’ family and friends referred to the victim’s engaging smile often during statements to the judge.
“That smile they all described is who Mr. Phillips was. He was a happy man, always on cloud nine. I wish I could see him smile here today, but I can’t because his murderer blew that smile right off his face,” Phillips’ friend and employer Christian Anderson told 9th Judicial District Judge Joe Parker.
Imploring Parker to give the maximum sentence of 21 years, Anderson said, “If you do, you can make my friend smile one more time.”
Phillips’ three siblings showed the court a slide show of their brother’s life, telling how he doted on his grandfather, rushed home for his sister’s impromptu wedding and cuddled his autistic nephew every chance he got.
Meanwhile, Linda Bentley begged the judge for leniency, her body and voice shaking so badly she had to pause several times to catch her breath.
“This whole affair has pretty much ruined my life. … I promise if you show some leniency I will get him help. Please show us a little bit of kindness where Jim is concerned.”
Parker told the courtroom based on the evidence heard at trial he believed it was a senseless killing and Bentley had the ability to stop the events from happening at any time that night.
“Mr. Bentley was in charge and was in charge at all times through that night. Mr. Bentley used deadly force at a time when he had a choice to go back into his room,” he said.
Giving the maximum of 15 years for second-degree murder plus one year for involvement of a firearm, Parker did not add an additional five years prosecutors requested for aggravated circumstances based on their belief of racial motivation.
Bentley will serve a minimum of 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.