By Jesse Wood
Nov. 15, 2013. Elijah Puckett, a disturbed man who killed Avery County Sheriff’s Deputy Glenn Hicks in the line of duty and shot his partner Deputy Ralph Coffey in the face more than 10 years ago, was found not guilty by reason of insanity during a recent hearing presided by Superior Court Judge Mark E. Powell.
The actual crime wasn’t in question, but the mental state of Puckett, who had a history of mental illness before the shootings, was in question. Since that tragic February in 2003, Puckett has been hospitalized at various facilities in the state.
Chief Prosecutor Britt Springer said that both a state doctor and the defendant’s doctor deemed Puckett legally insane at the time of the murder. That’s something, she added, that is rare in what she sees on a daily basis in her line of work.
“Very infrequently does this happen,” Springer said, referring to doctor’s on both sides agreeing on the issue of sanity or lack there of.
“They both testified that he will be mentally ill for the rest of his life and that while he is competent now he can lose that competency if not medicated,” Springer wrote in an email. “For Mr. Puckett ever to be released he must show that he is no longer mentally ill and that he is not a danger to himself or to others. There is a presumption that he is dangerous because he has already killed.”
It is the belief of the District Attorney’s Office that Puckett will be housed with other criminally insane people for the rest of his life. He was previously housed in Broughton Hospital in Morganton and will now be staying at Butner Central Regional in Raleigh.
For the family of Hicks, there may never be complete closure until Puckett eventually passes away because of this case being determined on Puckett’s mental status.
Including the initial review within 50 days of the court decision, Springer mentioned that a state doctor in Raleigh will review Puckett’s mental status each year and find that he is either to stay committed or he is cured, free and good to go.
For Puckett to ever be released, Springer said that Puckett must prove that he is no longer mentally ill and that he is not a danger to himself or anyone else. This is all unlikely, however, because as Springer noted doctors have already testified that he will be mentally ill for the rest of his life.
“[Secondly] Once you kill law enforcement and almost a second, there is a presumption of dangerousness and the doctors have said if he ever gets let out, he will not take his medication,” Springer said, adding that he could then become as dangerous as he was more than a decade ago.
While the District Attorney’s Office can’t guarantee that Puckett will never be a free man, Springer ensured that as long as District Attorney Jerry Wilson or Springer, who is campaigning to succeed Wilson in the 2014 election, are serving, the 24th Judicial District will never waive Puckett’s periodic hearings to be heard in Wake County.
“We will actively fight, if we have to, to ensure that Mr. Puckett will never be released as a free man. The DA’s office mourns right along side the family of Glenn Hicks,” Springer said. “They lost a family, husband, brother, friend and we lost a dedicated officer. The loss can never be healed but we will fight to make sure no other persons are hurt or killed at the hands of Elijah Puckett, and the only way we can do that is to keep him where he is at.”
For more details on this story, read prior article here.