KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL) – For the first time, a Kingsport judge spoke out against claims that he failed to provide a requested mental evaluation for a former student accused of threatening to shoot up Dobyns-Bennett High School.
Kingsport police arrested 19-year-old Mark Puckett last month. Investigators said they found alarming text messages against Dobyns-Bennett high school and threats to kill his family.
Kingsport police say they asked Judge Ray Conkin to order a mandatory psychological evaluation, but that didn’t happen, and Puckett was released on bond.
Elizabeth Kuebel was in court Thursday as Judge Conkin took the rare step of addressing publicity surrounding the case.
To sum it up, the judge said except in capital murder cases, he doesn’t have the legal authority to hold someone without bond for the purposes of a mental evaluation. It’s an issue, he told the court, he felt compelled to address.
"The constitution of the United States and the laws of the state of Tennessee guarantee every citizen the right to a reasonable bond pending trial," Conkin said.
Conkin responded more than a week after the Kingsport Police Department’s public information officer said the judge didn’t grant the department’s request to keep Puckett in jail until the suspect underwent a mandatory psychological evaluation.
"The referenced portions of the press release are patently misleading and showed at best an ignorance of the law and has resulted in public district of the justice system," Conkin said.
Nineteen-year-old Puckett is charged with felony false reporting and harassment. The man representing him in court, Attorney Gene Scott, said, "I think this thing has been blown out of proportion to some degree…I think the text messages, once they are aired in their proper form in the criminal court in Blountville, it will be readily apparent that he was not making a threat."
As for a possible mental evaluation, prosecutor Gene Perrin said, "Motions are going to be filed that will be heard in the criminal court to address those issues of concern to the public."
Kingsport Police Department Public Information Officer Tom Patton told News Channel 11 in a statement: "It is not the Kingsport Police Department’s position to comment on the judge’s opinion."
Puckett is due in criminal court April 20. His case was bound over to a Sullivan County grand jury.
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