August 3, 2013

Attorney: Lewiston arson suspect ruled incompetent for trial

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUBURN — A Lewiston man charged with starting the third in a string of major arson fires in downtown Lewiston has been found incompetent to stand trial, his attorney said Saturday.

click image to enlarge

Bryan Wood and his attorney Steven Carey listen to Assistant District Attorney Neil McLean during Wood's arraignment on May 13, 2013, in Lewiston District Court.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

A state clinical psychologist who examined Bryan Wood in July testified in Androscoggin County Superior Court on Thursday that while Wood understands many of the facts in the case against him, his mental ability to make reasoned decisions is “impaired.”

Wood, 23, is accused of collaborating with another man on May 6 to start a fire that destroyed two vacant buildings at 114 and 118 Bartlett St.

Wood and Brian Morin, a 30-year-old homeless man, were charged with two counts each of arson. Morin has pleaded not guilty.

Wood’s attorney, Steven Carey, said that Justice MaryGay Kennedy also found in her ruling, issued at the end of the day Friday, that there is not a substantial probability that Wood will become competent to stand trial in the foreseeable future.

The full text of Kennedy’s order was not immediately available since the court is closed for the weekend. Carey said he has a copy of the ruling, but he declined to release it. The judge herself could not be reached Saturday.

Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the judicial branch, said she was unable to get a copy of the judge’s order on the weekend.

“I believe we presented overwhelming evidence to support the Court’s finding,” Carey said in an email.

“We presented three of the most experienced forensic psychologists in the state (Dr. Ann LeBlanc, Dr. Andrew Wisch, and Dr. Kerry Drach) all of whom testified that Mr. Wood was unable to demonstrate the minimal skills ordinarily associated with competence to proceed and that his cognitive difficulties are not remediable.”

LeBlanc, who is director of State Forensic Service in Augusta, testified that when she examined Wood twice in July, he wanted to be found competent so he could tell the judge his version of what happened on the night of the fire.

“He is very good at saying words related to his circumstances, but his understanding of the words is limited,” LeBlanc said Thursday during a full-day competency hearing.

LeBlanc said Wood was diagnosed with “mild retardation” at the age of 4 and has tested as an adult to have an IQ of 55, compared to the average score of 100, meaning only one-tenth of a percent of people would score below him on the test.

Wood had also been found incompetent in previous criminal cases against him, including a case in 2008 in which he was accused of setting fire to a truck in Portland.

The prosecutor in the Lewiston case, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis, tried to demonstrate at the competency hearing that Wood is now more capable than past findings would suggest.

Matulis called witnesses who testified that Wood had his own apartment at 131 Bartlett St., was able to manage money he is given through the Social Security disability program and had developed a scheme to sell his food stamp benefits to buy drugs.

Wood’s mother, Lisa Schwenk, testified that since Wood is illiterate, she receives his checks and helps him pay the bills.

“He’s never actually had a job,” Schwenk said, adding that she had filled out job applications for him in the past.

Under state law, since Wood has been found incompetent to stand trial with no probability that he will become fit to stand trial, the court must order that the charges against him be dismissed and that he be released to the Department of Health and Human Services for a period of involuntary commitment.
Matulis could not be reached for comment Saturday on the judge’s ruling.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at: sdolan@mainetoday.com

 

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