Carol DeMare Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B1

Date: Wednesday, April 13, 1988

A second former Albany County Jail inmate testified Tuesday that murder suspect Donald Bent admitted that he killed his wife, Joan, and threatened to kill the inmate if he told authorities.

Also testifying in the Bent murder trial was a 62-year-old Albany man who said he and Joan Bent, 47, had been friends for years and planned to marry once she divorced Donald Bent. The inmate, Charles Wagoner, 39, said he was assigned a cell next to Donald Bent in the county jail, where Bent, 54, has been since his April 1987 arrest on charges of murdering his wife in 1986. They became friendly, Wagoner testified, and played pinochle often.

Under questioning by Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel S. Dwyer Jr., Wagoner said that one night he overheard a conversation between Bent and another inmate, in which the other inmate made a comment about Bent's wife. Bent shouted back a vulgarity, Wagoner said, and the next morning, Wagoner said, he heard Bent say to the other inmate, "I'll kill you like I killed my wife." Wagoner said Bent held his hands in the air "like in a choking position."

Wagoner testified that he said to Bent: "You got a bad temper, don't you?" He said Bent answered yes. Then Wagoner said he asked, "You killed her, didn't you?"

"I killed the ... bitch," Wagoner said Bent replied. Bent told him that he found divorce papers his wife was having prepared, Wagoner said.

Wagoner said that later, another inmate "came up and hit me in the forehead and said, 'This is from Donald Bent.'" After that, he said Bent warned him, "If you drop a dime (call authorities), or tell anyone about our conversation, I'll get you like I got my wife."

Wagoner, however, said he phoned the district attorney's office from jail, talked to Chief Investigator Roger Amash and set up a meeting. Former inmate David Lenihan testified Monday that Bent also told him that he killed his wife. Wagoner said nothing was promised him in return for his testimony.

Deputy Public Defender Bertrand F. Gould, who is representing Bent, pointed out to Wagoner that he often made references to a "Benton" and asked if he was referring to Bent. Wagoner said he was.

Donald Bent is charged with second- degree murder in the Feb. 16, 1986, strangulation death of Joan Bent, whose frozen body was found in the trunk of her car Feb. 27, 1986, behind the Menands Holiday Inn.

Also testifying in the jury trial before Judge John G. Turner Jr. was Edward T. Zimmer, who said his friendship with Joan Bent began in the summer of 1982 when she was a waitress at the Howard Johnson's at Fuller Road and Western Avenue in Albany. At the time of her death, she worked for Howard Johnson's on Route 9W in Albany as head housekeeper.

Zimmer, an employee of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, speaks with a voice amplifier. Most of his answers were repeated for the jury by court stenographer Carole Ryan.

Zimmer said that in July 1983 he lent Joan Bent $5,000 through a note prepared by her attorney, F. Stanton Ackerman of Albany.

After the loan, "we became more and more friendly, and she trusted me more and more," Zimmer said. In 1985, their relationship intensified, he said, although it was never intimate. He said Joan Bent kept him informed of her divorce plans.

"We were making plans to get married," Zimmer said. He gave her a gold nugget ring in the summer of 1985 and last saw her two days before her death, on Valentine's Day, when they went to a party. Zimmer said they had planned to buy a home "near a golf course so she could paint, and I could play golf."

Zimmer, under questioning by Gould, said he twice had dinner with Joan and Donald Bent at their Watervliet home, once on Christmas 1984.

Ackerman took the stand and identified two wills he drew up for Joan Bent, one in 1982 in which she left everything to her husband, and another in 1984 in which she left him only the minimum required by law. Ackerman said he never told Donald Bent about the second will.

Ackerman represented Bent on criminal charges in connection with a January 1985 incident in which Bent stole property from Statewide Industrial Equipment Corp. of Watervliet. Bent pleaded guilty to grand larceny, was sentenced to 60 days in the county jail and was ordered to pay $33,000 in restitution and fines at the rate of $572 a month, Ackerman said.

The Bents also signed a note to pay Ackerman a fee of $7,500, using Joan Bent's home as collateral, Ackerman said.

The trial continues today at 10 a.m.