August 3, 2013

Augusta man accused of arson declared unfit for trial

By Betty Adams
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A city man charged with arson in connection with a fire that heavily damaged a Northern Avenue apartment building last March was found incompetent to stand trial following a hearing today in Kennebec County Superior Court.

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Stephen Cormier

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This file photo shows 146 Northern Ave. in Augusta, the morning after it was heavily damaged by a fire on March 21. The building has since been razed. Stephen Cormier, charged with two counts of arson related to the fire, is unfit to stand trial, a judge ruled today.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Stephen B. Cormier, 57, was indicted in April on two counts of arson — one saying the fire recklessly endangered people or property and the other saying the fire was intended to damage or destroy property — and one count of aggravated criminal mischief.

An affidavit filed with the court by Kenneth MacMaster, an investigator with the state fire marshal's office, said Cormier admitted using a lighter to set fire to a bill in the living room of his first floor apartment and then placed it near other pieces of mail. It also said Cormier told officials he poured several glasses of water to try to put out the fire and fled after flames from the couch reached the ceiling. He was treated for smoke inhalation.

Cormier and one other tenant were the only people at the four-unit building at 146 Northern Ave. when the fire started. The building was later razed and the lot cleared.

Justice Michaela Murphy ruled today on Cormier's competence on the basis of a report from Ann LeBlanc, a psychologist who is director of the State Forensic Service. Murphy ordered Cormier to be sent to Riverview Psychiatric Center for care, observation and restoration of competence if possible.

Both the prosecutor and Cormier's attorney, Ronald Bourget, agreed that would be the only evidence submitted.

LeBlanc was in the court, but not called on to testify. The hearing followed a meeting with the judge in chambers.

Murphy said the State Forensic Service will evaluate Cormier at various intervals and make reports to attorneys.

Murphy also noted that if competency is not restored after a year and 90 days, and if there is not a substantial probability it can be restored, then state law calls for dismissal of the charges.

Cormier, who has hair to the nape of his neck and a long white beard, remained in the courtroom while the conference was underway, occasionally shaking his legs so his shackles rattled.

MacMaster said an occasional roommate of Cormier's reported that Cormier had not been taking his medication, had not taken a shower for a year and had been acting crazy, describing that as "sitting in his chair, laughing and looking towards the ceiling."

Cormier has been held at Kennebec County jail pending the hearing.

Previously when he lived in Waterville, Cormier was arrested on a warrant after reports he was behaving menacingly toward women shoppers in a Waterville supermarket. He was later convicted of assault and sentenced to six months in jail.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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