Park vandalism suspect indicted by federal court

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 10, 2004

[3/9/04]A federal grand jury has indicted a Vicksburg man accused of spray-painting graffiti on Vicksburg National Military Park monuments in November.

The indictment is in addition to state charges that have kept Mark Vincent Peterson, 33, no address available, in the Warren County Jail since his arrest.

The indictment in U.S. District Court in Jackson is for felony malicious mischief.

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Made public Monday, the indictment was returned Thursday, said Sheila Wilbanks, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jackson.

It accuses Peterson of “depredation against 11 monuments within the boundaries of the Vicksburg National Military Park, which is the property of the United States.” Peterson caused damage in excess of $1,000, it adds.

The maximum penalty for the offense is a imprisonment of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.

An arraignment hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. March 16 before federal magistrate Judge Alfred G. Nichols, in Jackson, Wilbanks said. A date for a trial in the case will be set at that hearing, Wilbanks said.

Peterson was arrested the afternoon of Nov. 25 at Navy Circle, off Washington Street near the Mississippi River bridges. National Park Service and Vicksburg police officers made the arrest after a car was spotted that fit the description of the one their suspect had been driving.

Peterson was charged under the state’s felony malicious mischief law, which had taken effect months earlier. That law provides for a maximum penalty of five years in prison and payment of a $10,000 fine plus restitution for damages caused.

He has been held on $100,000 bond on the state charge since his arrest, jail records show.

The vandalism was discovered in 21 places inside and outside the park over four days beginning Nov. 20.

Most of the spray-painted messages read, “Jesus is coming. Repent y’all.”

The messages were found at 13 monuments statues or memorials in the park and at six churches, a Jewish temple and at Riverfront Park.

One of the monuments one, the North Carolina monument on Confederate Avenue, is outside the park’s boundaries.

The indictment does not list the 11 monuments Peterson is charged with vandalizing, and officials have not discussed a possible motive.

Shortly after Peterson was arrested, his father, Ben Peterson of Vicksburg, said his son had been living on the streets in Vicksburg or Jackson. He had changed since a 3 1/2-year military hitch in New York, his father added.

Mark Peterson has been represented by Jackson attorney Andy Sumrall, District Attorney Gil Martin has said. Sumrall has asked Martin’s office to agree to a court-ordered mental exam in the state case against Peterson, but the state has not agreed, Martin has said.

Plans have been for Martin’s office to present the case to the next Warren County grand jury, which is scheduled to meet the week of May 3. Martin said Monday that the return of the federal indictment would not affect that plan to prosecute Peterson for the vandalism that was done to non-federal property.

The locations in the park where graffiti was found were scattered along the 16-mile tour road. Designated by Congress in 1899, the park covers 1,728 acres.

Past vandals have included three Indiana men who “anointed” park monuments here and elsewhere with oil in 1997. They were handed five-year suspended prison terms and $5,650 fines each after pleading guilty.