Sunday, May 26, 2013
By Keith Edwards email@example.com
AUGUSTA -- The man who was committed to a state psychiatric hospital after killing two nuns and severely injuring two others in a chapel in Waterville in 1996 will be allowed to move into a new group home in a residential neighborhood.
Mark Bechard walks into Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta for a court appearance in 2006.
Jamie Morrill, then-assistant commissioner of the Department of Behavior and Development Services, speaks to the media outside the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Waterville in this 2003 file photo regarding the decision to allow Mark Bechard supervised leaves from AMHI. At right iattorney David Bernier and Sister Mary Catherine Perko.
Staff file photo by Dave Leaming
Mark Bechard, 53, has to move because the group home he's living in -- on the former grounds of the Augusta Mental Health Institute -- will close because of funding shortages.
State officials say that leaves Bechard with two options: move into a group home in the community or return to the Riverview Psychiatric Center, which also is on the former AMHI grounds.
Patients from the state campus homes that are closing are being moved to a home on Glenridge Drive, across Hospital Street from the grounds, or to Green Street, on Augusta's West Side.
After several hours of testimony Friday from psychiatrists and others who are involved in Bechard's treatment, Justice Nancy Mills approved his petition to move to the group home at 14 Glenridge Drive. The home is expected to open in a couple of weeks.
Mills denied a request that Bechard be allowed as much as three hours a day of unsupervised time in the community. Instead, he will be under 24-hour, seven-day-a-week staff supervision, at the home and whenever he leaves the property.
Mills said the transfer is an interim order, and she wants to revisit the issue after Bechard has had time to adjust to his new surroundings and housemates. "Until he gets through this period, he should be supervised," she said.
The state is closing the group homes on the state campus at least in part because patients there have been deemed by the federal government to be ineligible for Social Security and other benefits, said Dr. William Nelson, medical director at Riverview. The federal government still considers them to be hospitalized because they're on Riverview property. Once they are off the state campus, they will regain eligibility.
Nelson said while clients' immediate needs for food and housing would still be met if they stayed on state property, their lack of discretionary money could hurt their recovery.
Authorities say Bechard, who was 37 at the time, was suffering a psychotic episode when he stormed through the chapel at the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament convent in Waterville on Jan. 27, 1996. He attacked four nuns, killing Mother Superior Edna Mary Cardozo, 68, and Sister Marie Julien Fortin, 67.
Sister Patricia Ann Keane survived the attack but died later from her injuries. Sister Mary Anna DiGiacomo, who was paralyzed on her right side, died in 2006.
A nun who answered the phone at the convent Friday said state officials had told them about Bechard's petition to move, but they didn't attend the hearing and don't want to comment.
Bechard was found not criminally responsible for the deadly rampage and was committed to state custody. Since then, he has been on antipsychotic medication.
Ann LeBlanc, director of the state Forensic Service, said Bechard has been reliable in following his treatment plan and has shown no signs of being a risk to his own or the public's safety in at least five years.
Bechard has been diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, according to Dr. Mitchell Manin, Bechard's psychiatrist at Riverview. The disorder is characterized by a combination of symptoms of schizophrenia and a mood disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
Mark Bechard, 37 at the time, is shown in a photo supplied by the Kennebec County Sheriff's Department after he was arrested Saturday, Jan. 27, 1996, at a Waterville convent where two nuns were killed.