Mental exam OK’d for city suspect in park vandalism

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 19, 2004

[3/17/04]JACKSON A federal judge has granted the request for a mental exam of a Vicksburg man accused of spray-painting end-time graffiti in the Vicksburg National Military Park last year.

Specialists with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will evaluate the competency of Mark Vincent Peterson, 33, to stand trial, U.S. Magistrate Alfred G. Nichols ruled Tuesday.

Peterson’s attorney, Andy Sumrall of Jackson, entered a plea of not guilty before Nichols after Peterson himself had answered “guilty” when Nichols initially asked for a response to the charges.

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Peterson also declined to “swear,” but did affirm, that he would tell the truth.

“Sir, the book of Matthew tells me not to swear, but I will tell you the truth,” Peterson told Nichols.

Peterson is charged in the federal court system with malicious mischief, which carries maximum penalties of 10 years in jail and a fine of $250,000, Nichols said.

He was indicted March 4 by a federal grand jury meeting. The indictment accuses him of vandalizing 11 monuments in the park, which is federal property.

Most messages he is accused of painting read, “Jesus is coming. Repent y’all.”

Reports of vandalism found Nov. 20-23 included 12 locations inside the park’s boundaries and nine outside. The locations outside the park were six churches, a Jewish temple, an outdoor city restroom at Riverfront Park and the VNMP’s North Carolina monument on Confederate Avenue.

For the non-park property he is accused of vandalizing, Peterson also faces malicious-mischief charges in state court. The case against him is expected to be presented to the Warren County grand jury that meets in May, District Attorney Gil Martin has said.

State law provides for up to five years in jail, a $10,000 fine and restitution for damages for those convicted of the crime.

“The next step is for (Peterson) to be transported to a medical facility of the Bureau of Prisons,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy. “Once he returns from that and a report is prepared for the court, if the court finds him competent, then we will proceed with the case.”

If determined to be mentally incompetent, Peterson will be assigned to a treatment program. Criminal statutes don’t apply to those unable to discern the nature of their actions.

Dowdy said he expected the report to be complete in about 90 to 120 days. Once it is complete another hearing would be scheduled before the judge, he added.

Peterson had noticeably changed when he returned from a 3 1/2-year stint in the military, including time in New York, his father, Ben Peterson, said in the days following his son’s arrest.

He was taken into custody 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 graduated from Warren Central High School, worked in a local department store and in casinos here and in Tunica, and graduated from the University of Memphis before joining the U.S. Army, his father said.

After the hearing, he was to be returned to the Warren County Jail, where he has been held since his arrest on $100,000 bond on the state charges.

“He was not released on bond, but was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshal,” Dowdy said.