Candidate for US Senate faces sex charge

Friday, June 15, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 24

NASHVILLE (AP) - A Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate who is charged with solicitation of a minor had a "severe mental disease" at the time of his alleged crime, according to a mental evaluation.

Authorities say a 7-year-old girl riding her bike in front of the Johnson City apartment of Thomas K. Owens one day in May 2011 was invited inside. According to authorities, the 36-year-old then allegedly hugged the girl, unzipped his pants and asked her to perform a sex act. The girl ran home and told her mother, who notified police, authorities added.

Owens is one of seven long-shot Democratic candidates running in the Aug. 2 primary for the chance to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Bob Corker, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State website.

Owens told investigators the girl had been in his apartment. As for the allegation, he stated: "I have a problem with that," but did not elaborate.

The Johnson City Press reported tha t while the case was in General Sessions Court last year, Owens was sent to Lakeshore Mental Health Institute for an evaluation to determine whether he was competent to stand trial.

According to the newspaper, the Lakeshore team determined that Owens was competent, but concluded: "Mr. Owens was experiencing a severe mental disease or defect at the time of his alleged crimes. However ... Mr. Owens' severe mental disease or defect did not impair his ability to appreciate the nature or wrongfulness of the alleged behavior."

The case went to the grand jury last month.

Owens' attorney, David Robbins, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he had just gotten the case and was still reviewing it.

"It's too early in the litigation to comment," Robbins said.

Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said the party has not spoken with Owens or his campaign, and is seeking a "legal remedy to try to remove his name from the ballot."

"The re's no place for a candidate like that on the Democratic ticket in Tennessee," he said.