The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Jury finds man guilty of child abuse

Defense plans to appeal, seeks probation

 


CLOVIS — A Clovis man accused of hitting a young child at a restaurant was convicted Wednesday of disorderly conduct and felony abuse of a child, for which he faces up to 4 1/2 years in prison.

A jury deliberated almost two hours following a morning trial with presiding Judge Fred Van Soelen.

Bruce Bender, 64, was arrested March 16, 2017, following the incident that evening at Leal’s Mexican Restaurant on Prince Street. Prosecutors said Bender scolded the child, a relation by marriage, for sitting on his knees and lost his temper when the child bumped the table while repositioning. He told police he was frustrated and reacted by hitting the child and leaving the restaurant, according to court records.

Bender was released on bond that night and remains out on bond pending a sentencing hearing May 23, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Stover.

“This case was important to the state because protecting children is paramount for this office. This man punched a 6-year-old child in the face and did it right out in public,” Stover said. “Now, I am certainly a firm believer in discipline, and that there’s a time for physical discipline with children. I have no qualms about that. ... But what kind of message are we sending if we allow a grown man to get angry and punch a 6-year-old in the face? We’re not going to tolerate that.”

Bender’s defense attorney Ben Herrmann said evidence did not show that Bender "punched him in the face." He said he plans to appeal the verdict, and that he would attempt at the sentencing hearing to have his client’s time served on probation rather than in custody.

“At the end of the day I don’t feel that prison is appropriate,” Herrmann said. “It really isn’t an extremely serious offense, when we talk about child abuse — there’s absolutely no injuries, no hospitalization.”

Herrmann said part of the appeal would dispute the severity of the action taken against the child, who was seated at the table with his grandmother and Bender.

“There may be an issue with one of the jury instructions that defines ‘cruelly punished’,” Hermann said.

 

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