After just over one day of testimony in the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas last week, a Susquehanna man was acquitted of the most serious charges – including three counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.
A jury, however, found Bentler guilty on all the counts they deliberated, including aggravated assault, simple assault, terroristic threats and the prohibited possession of a firearm.
The charges stemmed from an incident on July 20, 2020 on a rural road in Great Bend Township following a vehicle crash. According to court documents filed by police at the time, Bentler refused multiple commands from troopers to drop his weapon. As the incident unfolded, a trooper fired three rounds from his patrol rifle, striking Bentler who then dropped to the ground and lost control of the rifle while falling.
Bentler was wanted on a felony arrest warrant stemming from a July 19 robbery and assault when police were dispatched to Harmony Road for a report of a vehicle crash with a man standing outside the vehicle holding a rifle at the PA Fish and Boat Commission Board Launch area. The Hallstead Fire Department was also dispatched and were the first to arrive on the scene.
Prior to closing arguments last Wednesday and with the jury not in the courtroom, defense attorney Theron Solomon argued for the dismissal of the charges lodged against Bentler. He argued that his client, despite holding a rifle, had asked police for help.
District Attorney Marion O’Malley said that the presence of the gun in the situation constituted a threat to the responding troopers.
“He didn’t threaten to shoot anyone,” Solomon said. “He did not raise the gun.”
O’Malley counters that Bentler was actively attempting to bring the gun up when the trooper shot him.
In addition to witness testimony, the jurors were also able to view video from the incident.
In closing arguments, Solomon argued that his client did not point the rifle, nor aim at any of the troopers.
He also made a point of noting, “The Pennsylvania State Police are not on trial here. Whether the shooting was justified or not is completely irrelevant.”
“This case started a lot different than where we are at right now,” Solomon told the jury – a reference to the acquittals dispensed by President Judge Jason Legg prior to closing arguments.
The district attorney reminded the jury that Bentler had been asked by police to surrender his weapon but he refused. She detailed how the totality of the incident began the day prior, with Bentler taking a vehicle without the owner’s permission and the alleged assault and theft of a firearm from an elderly man.
She said, “The whole matter could have come to a peaceful conclusion if he put the gun down.” She argued the troopers discerned a real threat and concern for their safety. “(Bentler) chose to maintain possession of the rifle,” O’Malley said.
Following the verdict, Judge Legg revoked bail and Bentler was remanded into custody. He is scheduled to appear for trial in September in another case. A sentencing date was scheduled for Sept. 22.
O’Malley said that, although Bentler had been acquitted of some of the charges, “We are pleased with the convictions we did get.”