LEWISTON – Residents here are afraid that a man who has twice been found incompetent to stand trial on arson charges could soon be back on the streets of Lewiston.

Bryan Wood and Brian Morin are accused of setting fire to two vacant apartment buildings on May 6. Morin has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, but a judge ruled Friday that Wood is not competent to stand trial, based in part on a state psychologist’s examination that showed Wood has “mild retardation” and an IQ of 55, compared with the average of 100.

Wood, 23, was charged with arson in 2008, when he was 18, and found incompetent to stand trial in that case. It’s unlikely that he will ever be hospitalized long-term, despite the seriousness of the charges.

But Sharleen Price, who lives on Bartlett Street near where the two buildings burned, said, “I wouldn’t feel safe if I knew he was out. … They need to put him where he can get help.”

Wood’s case shows how the state handles criminal cases involving people with intellectual disabilities who are deemed incompetent to stand trial, following a consent decree decades ago that led to the closure of psychiatric hospitals throughout Maine.

Instead of being institutionalized, sometimes for life, those people are now integrated into the community.

“For some people, there is a benefit to institutionalization,” said Stephen Schwartz, a defense attorney in Portland who has had clients with intellectual disabilities. “Now we do the best for these people that we can despite continual defunding of services.”

Steven Carey, Wood’s attorney, said he knows of no residential program in the Lewiston area that could accept Wood if he is released into the community. Carey said Wood likely would live with his mother, who could not be contacted Tuesday.

Brandon Cundiff, who also lives on Bartlett Street, said Wood should not have been released after his arson charges five years ago.

“They shouldn’t have let him go the first time around,” Cundiff said. “He could have hurt a lot of people.”

In 2008, Wood reportedly stole a truck from a home in Harrison with another man and then set fire to the vehicle to destroy any evidence. Before Wood could go to trial, he was found not competent because of his low IQ and mild mental retardation, or intellectual deficiency disorder.

Those deficiencies were cited by three psychologists in his competency hearing last week on the charges from the fire May 6.

Ann Leblanc, the head of forensic services for the state, concluded that Wood “does not possess the reasoning abilities to make informed decisions related to defending his case.”

While Wood can grasp simple concepts, he cannot understand complex legal proceedings, such as what a plea bargain means, Leblanc said.

Carey pushed for the incompetency ruling, while saying his client maintained his innocence and wanted a trial so he could tell his side of the story.

Instead, Wood will be held in jail until he is evaluated by the Department of Health and Human Services, under an order by Judge MaryGay Kennedy.

Because of the severity of the charges, state law allows Wood to be committed involuntarily, even after charges are dismissed, if he is deemed a threat to himself or others, so he can be treated and assessed for risk.

What happens next is up to the DHHS. Carey said the most likely scenario is that Wood will be involuntarily admitted to the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta for treatment.

By state law, he could be held for no longer than one year, and the time could be much less because he would be evaluated periodically. Wood does not have a mental health diagnosis, so it’s not clear what his treatment would be.

Because the judge ruled that “there does not exist any substantial probability that the defendant can become competent in the near future,” Wood cannot be held indefinitely.

After he was found incompetent in 2008, Wood spent time at Riverview, although his attorney could not say how much time.

Carey said he doesn’t believe that a lockdown psychiatric facility is the best place for Wood. “We are working with DHHS to establish services that could help him in the community,” he said.

Lewiston police Detective Lt. Michael McGonagle said he hopes Wood spends time at Riverview. If he is released anytime soon and ends up back in Lewiston, he’ll be watched closely.

“He’s on our radar now,” McGonagle said. “We certainly understand the public’s fear.”

Joe Chabot, who lives in the apartment where Wood was staying in May when the fires were set, said he hopes Wood won’t end up back in the neighborhood.

“We don’t need that kind of problem,” he said. “We’ve got enough problems already.”

The blaze on May 6 was the third major fire in downtown Lewiston in a span of eight days. A 13-year-old boy is charged with setting a fire on April 29, and another 13-year-old boy is charged with setting a fire on May 3.

In all, the fires destroyed seven buildings and displaced nearly 200 residents in downtown Lewiston. They aren’t believed to be connected.

Cecilia Ward, who lives directly behind Bartlett Street where the fires happened, said even months later, she’s still on edge about what could happen in her neighborhood.

“We had a fire alarm the other day and all I could think was that the building was going up,” she said. “I don’t feel safe.”

Kristy Grenier, who also lives in the neighborhood, said that, to her, Wood is no different from most of the people she sees every day.

“I’d say 75 percent of the population is a danger,” she said. “Lewiston is Lewiston.”

Grenier said the series of fires did lead her to make one change: “I have renter’s insurance now.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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