AUGUSTA — A 66-year-old Bangor area man who blinded himself at the Maine State Prison is en route to Columbia, South Carolina, where he will be treated for an underlying psychosis that continues to lead him to want to harm himself.

Three uniformed deputies from the Columbia Regional Care Center in South Carolina and a man wearing dark scrubs and a stethoscope sat in the back of a courtroom Wednesday at the Capital Judicial Center, watching a criminal proceeding for James N. Staples.

Afterward, they met with Staples’ Maine treatment providers for a clinical handover before placing him in a van to head south.

Staples previously had pleaded not criminally responsible to assaulting a fellow patient at Riverview Psychiatric Center, and on Wednesday, Justice Michaela Murphy concluded there was enough evidence to accept his plea and ordered him put in the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services to be placed in an appropriate facility.

Murphy noted Staples had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

She asked Staples a series of questions to determine whether he understood his rights and the plea agreement reached by prosecutors and the defense attorney and attorneys representing other state departments.

When she asked him about the assault on the patient that occurred Feb. 15, 2017, Staples told her he actually had assaulted two women, one patient and one staff member. The state dismissed the charge of assaulting the staff person.

Staples has nine previous assault convictions, all in the Bangor area, and six of those on July 19, 2016.

“I am a person who is aware of wrongfulness,” Staples told her. “I felt in my person a command where I had no choice but to do an assault. God was having me for my own health perform these acts. The superintendent felt I was just doing it for my own purpose to stay at Riverview.”

Staples said he was acting against his own will, and that he meant to hit people but not to hurt them.

Staples said he had to do it for the good of his soul.

“Once the act was done, I felt my soul being restored,” he said.

Staples’ attorney, Douglas Jennings, said, “I think we know now it was a more serious psychological situation than people thought.”

Jennings said he had reviewed various defenses available with Staples.

“His desire, as expressed to me, is that he wants to go to a hospital, which is why we chose this route,” Jennings told the judge.

The prosecutor, District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, said videos from Riverview showed Staples charging the other patient, shoving her into a kitchenette and punching her in the head.

Maloney also said Staples told several people at Riverview what he did.

In the courtroom, three transport deputies from the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office surrounded Staples, remaining within 20 inches of him and touching the back of his chair. Staples, who was in an orange jail uniform, was in shackles, but his hands were free.

At the previous hearing, his lower arms had appeared to be swathed in white bandages.

Murphy also told Staples he had a right to petition the court in Kennebec County every six months, should he want to seek a change in conditions.

She closely questioned Ryan Thornell, associate commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, about how Staples could have blinded himself while at the Intensive Mental Health Unit at the Maine State Prison.

Thornell — who spoke from the public area of the courtroom — said Staples was in his room by himself in the unit, which was monitored in 15-minute increments.

He said a check was performed at 1:47 p.m. that day, and the incident occurred at 1:49 p.m.

The prison did an internal review afterward. “We haven’t found any lapses in practices,” Thornell said.

After Staples gouged out his eyes with his own hands, he was taken to Tufts Medical Center for treatment, and the state billed the Kennebec County jail $39,000 for the overtime incurred there by corrections officers. Murphy inquired about the status of that as well.

Assistant Attorney General James Fortin, representing the department, said a memo of understanding indicates that jails sending inmates to state correctional facilities are responsible for any extra costs incurred.

“My understanding is the sheriff has paid the bill,” Fortin told her.

Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason previously had said he probably was not going to pay it and was going to speak with the prison warden about it.

On Wednesday, Richard Wurpel, interim jail administrator, said no money had been sent because the county commissioners had not met to authorize any warrant for it.

After the assault charges were filed, Staples would have been held at the jail. Instead, he was sent to the prison’s mental health unit.

Miriam Davidson, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Riverview, testified about coordinating treatment and transfers for the two Riverview patients currently being treated in South Carolina and preparations for Staples’ treatment.

She said Riverview’s concern about keeping Staples is that the hospital’s protocols do not allow him to be kept in restraints or seclusion unless he presents imminent danger to himself or others.

“He creates a challenge, ’cause we’re unable to restrain him for long periods of time until we get his psychotic thought process under control,” she said. Davidson said Staples has said he wants to pull out what remains of his eye.

“He has identified at times a desire to continue to harm himself,” she said.

In the South Carolina facility, she said, his hands could be kept in protective mitts while his antipsychotic medication regimen continues.

Davidson also told the judge that the treatment team goal in South Carolina goal is to treat Staples so that he can be safe when he is returned to Maine.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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Twitter: @betadams