Gary Simpson appears in court, did not understand kidnapping charge

Simpson's preliminary hearing date is set for May 23

Gary Simpson (Hawkins County Sheriff's Office)

ROGERSVILLE (WATE) – The man accused of kidnapping his 9-year-old niece, Carlie Trent, and sparking an Amber Alert and a massive search effort appeared in court for the first time Monday.

In the Hawkins County sessions court, Judge Lane Wolfenbarger told Gary Simpson, 58,  that he was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and custodial interference.

He then proceeded to ask the defendant if he understood the charges and Simpson replied, “I don’t understand the kidnapping charge. What I don’t understand is I’m charged with something that her dad’s girlfriend has done occasionally.”

Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said it is not unusual for defendants to express concern or confusion in the courtroom, particularly for someone like Simpson, who has been kept in solitary confinement since his May 12 arrest.

“He didn’t seem to be as confused as he was today,” Lawson said. “He’s been locked down for a few days and had time to think. I really don’t what his demeanor is right now. He is concerned, he relayed to me, about his family he left behind, his child.”

Related: Celebration held for Carlie Trent’s safe return in Rogersville

Simpson told Judge Wolfenbarger that he is unemployed and spends his days caring for his handicapped son, who is confined to a wheelchair.

If convicted of the kidnapping charge, he could spend up to 25 years in prison.

Though the suspect did not show any visible signs of guilt or remorse, Sheriff Lawson said Simpson has been cooperating with law enforcement.

“Very cooperative,” Lawson said. “He’s been very cooperative inside the jail [and] no problems whatsoever.”

In court, Simpson also told the judge that he does not have a lot of money or assets, with his son’s SSI being his only source of household income.

The judge appointed the Hawkins County Public Defender’s Office to the case for Simpson’s preliminary hearing set for May 23 at 1:00 p.m. Simpson remains on a $1 million bond and has been ordered to not contact Carlie or her family in any way.

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