Judge grants mental evaluation for sexual battery suspect

James Gary Bardwell, seated, listens on in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court on Thursday as his attorney Stephanie Mallette requests a mental evaluation after he was arrested for sexual battery and other charges (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

Ryan Phillips
SDN Editor

A Starkville man accused of sexual battery clutched a tissue and wiped away tears in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court Thursday, before a judge granted his attorney’s request to have a mental evaluation conducted. 

James Gary Bardwell, Jr., 35, was indicted by an Oktibbeha County Grand Jury in January for sexual battery, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and habitual offender. 

The sexual battery arrest stems from accusations that Bardwell sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl on or about Sept. 16, 2017. 

Bardwell’s attorney, Stephanie Mallette, requested that the state allow for a mental evaluation to be conducted on Bardwell at Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield, due to his erratic and paranoid behavior. 

Mallette said Bardwell’s family put up their home to cover the $100,000 bond for their son, but once released, his behavior quickly became an issue. 

“I talked to him when he was out of jail on the phone and he was incredibly erratic, illogical, angry, hostile, just not normal in any sense of the word,” she said. “It gave me great pause that he was having some serious mental health issues.”

Mallette then said it was revealed to her that Bardwell was abusing multiple drugs, possibly exacerbating his potential mental health issues. 

“It became evident he needed to be in custody as soon as possible because he was threatening violence toward himself, threatening violence toward his family, he was obviously agitated and irrational,” she said. 

Bardwell was taken back into custody and held in the Oktibbeha County Jail after his family and legal counsel began to worry about his mental state. 

However, after being in jail and away from drugs, Mallette said he was still “unfocused, and unable to carry on a consistent conversation.” 

“He changes courses constantly, and goes into conspiracy theories and things of that nature,” she said. 

Prior to the allegations in question, Bardwell has a history of mental health treatment. 

Mallette said he previously sought treatment at Alliance Health in Meridian, and has been diagnosed as bi-polar and suffering from poly-substance abuse. 

Additionally, at the time he was out on bond following the sexual battery arrest, Bardwell was supposed to take the antipsychotic drug Risperdal,  along with Depakote - an anticonvulsant used to treat seizures and bi-polar disorder. 

When asked by Circuit Judge Lee Howard if Bardwell was competent to sign the arraignment, Mallette said the erratic behavior spurred by mental illness and drug use occurred subsequent to his release from custody. 
“There was a precipitous decline in his mental health status after arraignment,” she said. 

Assistant District Attorney Marc Amos did not object to the motion and Judge Howard granted the request for a mental evaluation. 

He then told Mallette to collect all of the appropriate professional diagnoses and paperwork for her client for the state. 

“As you know, getting people with mental health issues that have been charged with commission of a crime often is time consuming,” Howard said. “Based on the nature of the charges, and your statements to the court, I do not think at this stage he should be released from custody.” 

The possession of a weapon by a convicted felon charges stems from June 2017, when Bardwell was accused of possessing a Rock .45 caliber pistol, following a possession of stolen property conviction in 2012.
Bardwell was also convicted of aggravated assault in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court in May 2007.

If convicted of sexual battery, Bardwell could face life in prison, according to  Mississippi Code 97-3-95 (1)(d).

Bardwell will remain in the Oktibbeha County Jail with his bond revoked until his mental evaluation can be conducted.