Rape conviction from 2015 receives new sentencing. 

September 29, 2022

Bentz

Rape conviction from 2015 receives new sentencing. 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — A 41-year-old Ludington man convicted of raping a young girl will remain in prison for now, despite his conviction being overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Department of Corrections is expected to decide when Benjamin Michael Bentz will be released. 

Earlier this year, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the rape convictions of Bentz, who was sentenced in 2015 to serve four consecutive sentences of 25 to 75 years in prison, along with an additional term of seven to 15 years, consecutive to the first four convictions.

In June 2015, a jury in Mason County’s 51st Circuit Court found Bentz guilty five counts following a two-day jury trial. Bentz was convicted of four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) and one count of second-degree CSC in the case involving a girl who was 8- and 9-years-old at the time of the assaults.

Bentz was arrested in November 2014 by Ludington Police Department. 

During the 2015 trial, the victim in the case provided graphic testimony, stating that four instances of penetration occurred in her bedroom in the family house in Ludington. She also testified to one instance of sexual contact. The incidents occurred when the victim’s mother was in jail.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year, however, that the testimony provided by Dr. Debra Simms, a physician at DeVos Children’s Hospital, was not based on actual evidence but rather on the doctor’s observations. “She reported that her diagnosis was ‘probable pediatric sexual abuse’ because, although the victim’s physical examination was normal, the victim reported a ‘clear, consistent, detailed, [and] descriptive’ history of sexual abuse to her medical assistants,” an appellant court document states. “On cross-examination, defense counsel elicited testimony from Dr. Simms acknowledging that it was possible, based on the victim’s physical examination, that the victim was not abused. Similarly, Dr. Simms also testified, in response to defense counsel, that it was possible for children to lie about allegations of sexual abuse.” 

Benjamin Bentz with his attorney, Ryan Maesen during the 2015 sentencing.

Bentz’s defense attorney, representing him in appeal, testified that his trial defense counsel was “ineffective for failing to object to Dr. Simms’s testimony. This court agreed that it was error for Dr. Simms to testify as to her ‘diagnosis’ of probable pediatric sexual abuse, as it was not based on any medical findings, but rather, on the victim’s emotional state and the history the victim provided. Dr. Simms’s ‘diagnosis’ thus amounted to improper vouching for the victim’s credibility.”

Bentz is currently at Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon. According to the Michigan Department of Corrections’ website, Bentz’s earliest release date would have been Nov. 5, 2046 according to his conviction. That has now changed. 

On Sept. 13, a new sentencing hearing was held in Mason County’s 51st Circuit Court. During that hearing, Judge Susan Sniegowski handed down new sentences on the original five counts and an additional count, issued on June 28, 2022, of criminal sexual conduct – third degree (force or coercion). The sentence was 7 to 15 years, concurrent. 

Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Lauren Kreinbrink said both she and defense attorney Al Swanson Jr. interpret the result of the hearing as Judge Sniegowski disregarding their sentence agreement and adopting Mason County Probation/Parole’s recommending for 7 to 15 years with credit for time served. 

“He already has 7 1/2 years in,” Kreinbrink said. “At this point, my understanding is that Michigan Department of Corrections has to process the paperwork and then Bentz will be referred to the parole board to see if he will actually get out. So, he is still in MDOC custody at this time until the parole board says otherwise.” 

Kreinbrink said that she has discussed the sentencing with the victim, who is now an adult. 

Kreinbrink was not prosecutor when the trial occurred; it was prosecuted by Paul Spaniola, who was Kreinbrink’s predecessor.

Read related story here.

– Allison Scarbrough, editor, contributed to this story.

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