The Duncan Banner

September 6, 2013

Judge sets trial date for Bench

Bench requests new attorney

Mike Smith
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — A judge entered a not guilty plea for Miles Sterling Bench on Thursday and tentatively set his murder trial for January, despite Bench’s complaints that he is not satisfied with his public defense attorneys.

Bench, 22, interrupted Stephens County District Court Judge Joe Enos a few times during a brief arraignment on a first-degree murder charge in the June 6, 2012 death of 16-year-old Braylee Rae Henry of Velma.

Bench said he was not confident in his defense attorneys, who were appointed by the court, but Enos set the trial anyway for the Jan. 13, 2014 trial docket. That date could be moved back.

Prosecutors notified the court Wednesday they are seeking the death penalty, saying the murder was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel because Bench beat Braylee Henry with his fists and “stomped her to the point of death.”

Bench allegedly killed her at the Tee Pee Totem convenience store where he worked as a clerk. She had gone there to buy some soda and candy.

Bench is being represented by Gary Henry and Bobby Lewis, court-appointed attorneys with the Capital Division of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System. Enos began the hearing by asking Gary Henry if he had seen the paperwork formally seeking the death penalty.

Gary Henry said he found out about the filing Wednesday night, reviewed it and gave a copy to Bench before the hearing. Enos started to speak again but Bench interrupted,

“I wish to speak,” said Bench, who was sitting in handcuffs at the far end of the defense attorney’s table. “Can I speak?”

“I do not feel confident in who is representing me,” he said.

Enos reminded Bench that he asked the court to appoint counsel, the court did so and it now recognizes Henry as his lawyer.

Henry has represented several defendants facing a possible death sentence in Oklahoma. He and Lewis handle death-penalty cases for the state’s Indigent Defense System in 75 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties.

But Bench spoke out again, saying he had been told the judge in the case was Jerry Herberger and he had been trying to get a letter to him. Herberger is a special district judge in Stephens County who handled some preliminary proceedings in the case.

“We’re not ready to enter a plea now,” Bench said.

Enos then entered a not guilty plea on his own and set the trial for the January 2014 jury trial docket. But he said that date could be pushed back to April because Gary Henry might have a scheduling conflict.

Gary Henry, when asked afterwards about Bench seeking a different lawyer, noted what Enos had told Bench.

“The court told him he asked someone to defend him. That’s us,” he said. “He can hire someone.”

To get court-appointed counsel, Bench filled out paperwork to show he could not afford a private attorney and did not have relatives or friends who could help him do so. Bench could always demand that he be able to defend himself, although courts usually frown on such requests.

Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks, who was in the courtroom during Thursday’s hearing, declined to comment afterwards.

Hicks left the courtroom with Braylee Henry’s mother, Renee Henson, escorting her into his office along with some others who had been sitting with her.

Bench was arrested hours after authorities first found a pool of blood in a back room of the Velma convenience store and then discovered Braylee Henry’s body in a pasture near the rural Stephens County home of Bench’s grandparents.

He was arrested near Weatherford in Custer County while driving Braylee Henry’s car — which had an OnStar device that authorities used to track down the vehicle.

In the document Hicks filed Wednesday, he said the death penalty was justified because of the heinous nature of the crime.

“Braylee Rae Henry did consciously suffer great physical pain and mental anguish as she lingered before her death,” the document said.

It also said it was probable that Bench would commit further acts of violence and was a continuing threat to society.

Hicks listed several claims to justify that contention, alleging Bench:

• stood in a window during Labor Day weekend in Illinois in 2005, exposing himself and performing a sex act. That occurred on more than one occasion, the document says.

• while attending high school in Wilmington, Ill., was known to touch female students and was reprimanded several times for inappropriate behavior.

• when in high school in Ada, Okla., touched fellow classmates in a “lewd and lascivious” manner and once required a female student to sit in his lap, refusing to let her get up.

• exhibited similar behavior while a student at Davis High School in Davis, Okla.

• was arrested in July 2008 for domestic assault and battery for allegedly hitting his stepfather, who needed stitches for an eye wound.

• was AWOL from the Navy in January 2011 and was later arrested for possessing a stolen vehicle.

• was discharged from the military for continued failure to follow rules and be truthful with commanding officers.

• was arrested for shoplifting in Ada in November 2011.