Armed man arrested at Carmike 15 may face felony charges

ariquelmy@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 28, 2012 

Prosecutors are examining multiple options in the case of a man accused in August of walking into a Carmike 15 in Columbus with a handgun, including whether he's competent to stand trial or should face felony charges.

Joshua L. Vardeman, 23, currently faces three misdemeanor charges: carrying a concealed weapon, carrying a pistol without a license and carrying a deadly weapon into a public gathering. His arraignment, the formal proceeding before a case proceeds to trial, is scheduled for Oct. 12, Columbus Solicitor General Ben Richardson said.

Someone's charges can be changed prior to arraignment, and Richardson intends on meeting with police and local attorney Bill Mason before the hearing to discuss the case, Mason said.

Richardson said he's examining the possibility of charging Vardeman with a felony. However, he's also looking into a possible motive for Vardeman allegedly bringing a handgun into the premiere of "The Expendables 2." Vardeman's arrest happened about a month after the Aurora, Colo., shooting at a premiere showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" that left 12 people dead.

"With the publicity, who would even think about bringing a weapon into a movie theater?" Richardson asked. "We have to look at that very closely. Is that the action of a reasonable person?

"We've had some preliminary indications that there may be some issues we need to look to see if he's competent to stand trial," Richardson added. "You've got to have the intent, and you've got to have the act. If you're not in the right frame of mind, you can't form that intent."

Attorney Richard Hagler, who represents Vardeman, declined to discuss any possible competency issues. Hagler said he opposes upgrading the charges to a felony.

"I think it was just a big mistake," Hagler said. "I think it was just plane absentmindedness or foolishness. If anything, I hope they would be considering charges of a lesser nature."

Mason, who taught constitutional law for 15 years at Columbus State University, said an interview with Vardeman would be ideal in determining how to charge him.

"I would have an interview and ask, 'Why do you have a gun at the theater?,' and if he said to shoot other people, that should be a felony," Mason said.

If Vardeman remained silent, the charges should remain misdemeanors, Mason said.

He said there could be an issue with one of those misdemeanors -- carrying a deadly weapon into a public gathering.

That law has since been nullified, with an almost identical law taking its place, Mason said.

Instead of "public gathering," people are restricted from carrying weapons into an "unauthorized location."

Georgia law allows anyone without a permit to have a firearm in their home, business or vehicle.

However, a license is required to have a firearm anywhere else, and no one is allowed weapons in certain places, such as courthouses and bars.

Additionally, a business can become an unauthorized location by placing a sign forbidding guns, Mason said.

"Carmike has a sign that said no weapons allowed," he said.

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