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April 17, 2014

Jurors to decide Bench competency issue today

DUNCAN — Jurors will hear final arguments on Thursday and then be asked to determine whether  23-year-old Miles Sterling Bench is mentally competent to stand trial for first-degree murder in the bludgeoning death of 16-year-old Braylee Henry nearly two years ago.

  Prosecutors want Bench executed for the murder but defense attorneys say the Velma man is mentally incompetent to stand trial.

 To convince jurors Bench is sane, prosecutors on Wednesday showed a videotape of Bench maneuvering his way out of a chair restraint in an escape attempt from the Stephens County Jail.

  The incident occurred Sept. 12 after a detention officer said he loosened a strap on Bench’s wrist because the prisoner complained it was too tight, testimony showed.  

   Minutes later, the video shows Bench slipping his arm out of the restraint and working his way out of other restraints, pausing only when someone walked by. Once out of the chair, he moved across a hallway, changing his orange jumpsuit into a white shirt and green pants usually worn by jail trustees, who have  more freedom of movement within the jail.

Bench was found  in a holding cell near the booking area and the entrance to the jail, testimony showed.

“He said he was trying to get away,” testified Nathan Hicks, the detention officer.

 Defense psychologist Jeanne Russell said the incident has no bearing on Bench’s competency to stand trial now because the escape attempt occurred seven months ago.  Russell examined Bench in February and concluded he is incompetent to stand trial because he is incapable of helping his attorneys defend him.

  She has testified Bench’s mental state has deteriorated during his lengthy incarceration.

  A psychologist who has testified for the state has told jurors Bench is competent to stand trial.

 The video of Bench’s escape attempt was played on the third day of the accused killer’s competency hearing. Bench has been in prison since June 2012, charged with first-degree murder in the death of  Henry, who was beaten to death  in the Velma convenience store Teepee Totem.

 District Attorney Jason Hicks rested the state’s case after the videotape testimony.

Closing arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday before District Judge Joe Enos.


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