PORTLAND – Herbert Jones was arrested behind Portland High School while loading a high-powered rifle, intent on killing a man he thought was in the adjacent church, attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

He had planned the attack days in advance, trying to impress and protect a woman 20 years younger than he, and with whom he had become obsessed, a forensic psychologist testified Tuesday in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Jones has bipolar disorder, was having delusions of grandeur and manic episodes at the time, and couldn’t realize that what he was doing was wrong, said Dr. Charles Robinson.

“He’s on a divine mission,” Robinson said. “This is Rambo the avenger, directed by God, arriving on the scene with the heroine standing by to fall into his arms.”

Jones, 47, is being tried on charges of attempted murder, stalking and possession of a firearm on school property. He has pleaded not criminally responsible by reason of mental disease or defect, commonly called the insanity defense.

The basic facts of the case are not in dispute, and there is no jury. Justice Robert Crowley will decide whether Jones “lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of the criminal conduct” at the time — the statutory requirement for Jones’ plea.

If he is convicted, Jones will be sentenced to prison. If he is found not criminally responsible, he will be committed to a psychiatric institution for treatment.

Jones parked his BMW convertible outside the First Parish Church on the morning of May 18, 2009. He was loading a rifle that he had bought days earlier at L.L. Bean when Portland police officer Stephen Black saw him and ordered him at gunpoint to put down the rifle.

It was the first time Jones had ever been arrested.

“He knew he wanted to kill and he purchased the gun a few days earlier for that purpose,” said Assistant District Attorney Kate Tierney.

Even if someone feels directed by God or has bipolar disorder, it doesn’t mean they are incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, she said in court Tuesday.

Jones told police he was relieved that he didn’t have to carry out his plan, said Tierney, indicating that he knew it was wrong.

Tierney played an audiotape of Jones’ interview with detectives on the day of his arrest, in which he rambled about his desire for a relationship with the young woman, his rage toward pedophile priests and his plan to shoot a registered sex offender who sometimes went to the same AA meeting that Jones attended.

Jones described how he had driven around Portland the day before his arrest, looking for the sex offender, but hadn’t found him. He said, “I know I need help,” and broke down crying at three points during the interview.

Later, his lawyer, Neale Duffett, quoted from Jones’ interview with The Portland Press Herald just a couple hours after his arrest, in which he said, “I wanted to do an ‘angel of the night’ thing and catch somebody in the act — pedophile, rapist, doesn’t matter.”

Jones said in the interview that the people he wanted to kill were possessed by demons, and that demons were after him.

In the months before the incident, Jones received $30,000 in retroactive disability payments. He bought gifts for other members of the AA group in the weeks leading up to the incident.

Jones, infatuated with the 26-year-old woman, bought her clothes at the Maine Mall and paid to have her hair colored and to have a manicure, she and other witnesses testified Tuesday.

At first she was flattered, she testified, but as his behavior became increasingly obsessive, she told Jones to leave her alone and not contact her. She finally got a protection order against him.

The woman, whom the Press Herald is not identifying, was asked to point out Jones in the courtroom. She kept her eyes averted.

Jones was dressed in the baggy yellow uniform of a maximum-security inmate in the Cumberland County Jail. His hands and feet were shackled, and at times he held his head in his hands.

Jones told Crowley that he had skipped one of his psychotropic medications Tuesday morning because it makes him drowsy and he wanted to concentrate on the proceedings.

Most of Tuesday’s testimony was provided by Robinson, an expert witness called by the defense.

Jones graduated from South Portland High School in 1982 and worked as a commercial fisherman, Robinson said. He was first hospitalized for mental illness when he was 18, and has been hospitalized voluntarily numerous times since then. He also has had shock therapy for depression.

Jones’ bipolar disorder interferes with reasoning and perception, so even though he knows that killing someone is wrong, he didn’t understand that what he was doing outside the church was wrong, Robinson said. He felt that the holy spirit was putting thoughts in his head.

Since his arrest, Jones has continued to show delusional behavior, Robinson said.

In the Cumberland County Jail, Jones met Chad Gurney, the man who is charged with killing and dismembering 18-year-old Zoe Sarnacki in Portland one week after Jones’ arrest.

Robinson testified that Jones said he felt kinship with Gurney, who he said was somehow liberating Sarnacki. Jones also felt that he and Sarnacki had a spiritual connection, though he never met her.

The trial is scheduled to resume today.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]