Benjamin Lambert stands accused of five felonies related to allegations sexual trafficking and exploitation of minors. His trial date is now set, but Lambert’s defense attorney is out to prove his client is not competent to stand trial.
A Christian County grand jury indicted Lambert, 50, on two counts of sexual trafficking a child under the age of 18, one class B felony count of sexual exploitation of a minor, one class C felony of possession of child pornography and one class D felony count of third degree promoting prostitution in September 2018.
At a trial setting Jan. 16, in Ozark, defense attorney Thomas Carver said Lambert has undergone private psychological evaluation to determine whether or not he is mentally fit to be tried.
“We’re waiting now for the results of an evaluation that he performed,” Carver said. “I assume the state will want to have a run at having (Lambert) evaluated.”
Lambert now resides in a nursing home facility in Scott City, located near Cape Girardeau in southeastern Missouri, and that he wears an electronic monitoring device on one of his ankles. At a hearing in October, a defense attorney told the judge that Lambert suffered from aneurysms, seizures and memory loss.
“It may take a little while to get the competency issue addressed,” Circuit Judge Laura Johnson observed during the hearing Jan. 16.
Lambert did not appear in person at the hearing on Wednesday. The judge had excused him previously.
The chapter of Missouri statutes which Carver referred to states, in part, “No person who as a result of mental disease or defect lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or her or to assist in his or her own defense shall be tried, convicted or sentenced for the commission of an offense so long as the incapacity endures.”
The prosecutor and defense agreed to a pretrial hearing date of June 14. At that time, Judge Johnson can take up motions filed by attorneys from both sides.
“Do you anticipate that there will be a great deal of pretrial issues that we will need to take up?” Johnson asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Carver replied.
Carver has been Lambert’s defense attorney since Nov. 26, 2018. At a hearing that day, defense attorney Joseph Passanise moved to withdraw the Law Offices of Dee Wampler and Joseph Passanise from representing Lambert in the criminal case.
Christian County Prosecuting Attorney Amy Fite asked Carver if he would have adequate time to prepare for a trial now scheduled for the week of July 22-26.
“There is a tremendous amount of discovery,” Fite said, referring to evidence that includes recorded interviews with potential victims plus depositions and other evidence. “There are many hours (of footage) that can only be viewed in our office.”
Some evidence is kept secured in the prosecutor’s office because of the sensitive nature of witness and/or victim interviews.
Carver also told the court of his intent to use expert witnesses to defend Lambert in the event he is found competent and the case goes to trial. The defense attorney has until April 30 to disclose a list of expert witnesses. The prosecutor, in turn, has a deadline of May 20 to disclose any expert witnesses who could be used to counteract the testimony of the defense team’s experts.
Lambert is the son of Lambert's Cafe founder Norman Lambert, and is also one of the original signers of the incorporating documents of the Ozark Lambert's Cafe according to documentation with the Missouri Secretary of State's Office. Lambert's Cafe issued a statement on Facebook on Sept. 21, shortly after Ben Lambert's charges because publicly known.
"We were surprised and saddened to hear the news and charges of Ben’s indictment. While Ben is the son of Norman Lambert, he has not been active in the management of the store in recent years," the statement reads.
The Lambert's Cafe in Ozark has been incorporated since 1992. The restaurant is one of Christian County's most recognized restaurants and attractions.
"Lambert’s would never condone behavior of this nature. Lambert’s Cafe will continue to be a destination for family entertainment," the Lambert's statement reads.
In addition to the Ozark location, Lambert's operates its original restaurant in Sikeston, in New Madrid County, and another restaurant in Foley, Alabama.