A Freeport man has pleaded not criminally responsible and not guilty to murder and other charges stemming from what police have described as a random and violent rampage in December.

Quinton Hanna, 23, appeared for his arraignment Thursday by video from the Cumberland County Jail. When his image appeared on the television screen in the courtroom, Hanna was standing quietly in his jail uniform. The attorneys and the judge also joined the brief hearing by video.

Jim Pearson of Beech Ridge Farm in Scarborough pauses while driving his tractor on Nov. 30, 1999. Press Herald file photo

Hanna is accused of multiple crimes across two counties, including murder in the death of 82-year-old James Pearson, a former public school teacher and a Christmas tree farmer from Scarborough.

Maine law states that a person is not criminally responsible if “a mental disease or defect” prevents them from understanding the wrongfulness of their conduct. That finding would likely commit Hanna to Riverview Psychiatric Center for an indefinite period of time. In Maine, the penalty for a murder conviction is 25 years to life in prison.

Hanna has already undergone at least one forensic evaluation since his arrest in December, and the prosecutor and defense attorney both asked the judge to order another forensic evaluation by a clinical neuropsychologist. The judge granted that request and ordered Hanna to spend up to 60 days at the psychiatric hospital for that evaluation.

“Obviously, where serious mental health issues are present in a case of this magnitude it is essential that all evaluations be completed properly and in a timely manner,” defense attorney Andrew Wright wrote in an email after the arraignment. “We are very interested as to exactly what the outcome of any future evaluations tell us.”

Police said Pearson went outside for cigarettes on the morning of Dec. 15 and returned bleeding from three stab wounds. He was pronounced dead a short time later at the hospital. His death stunned his community, where he was a well known and genial face.

As police searched for his killer, they learned Hanna had been arrested later that day in West Bath. They quickly tied Hanna to the fatal stabbing and eventually charged him with crimes that allegedly took place over 15 hours in three towns.

A Cumberland County grand jury indicted him on four charges in February, and he entered his plea to those charges at the arraignment Thursday.

Quinton Hanna appears via video from jail for his arraignment hearing at the Cumberland County Courthouse on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In addition to murder, Hanna is also charged with attempted murder and elevated aggravated assault for allegedly stabbing 69-year-old Clifford Nadeau in Freeport the night before Pearson’s death. Nadeau survived the attack. The indictment also included a charge of eluding an officer.

A police affidavit details other allegations – including reports of a sexual assault and a robbery – but the arraignment did not address any charges related to those incidents. Assistant Attorney General Bud Ellis said Hanna is facing other charges in Sagadahoc County, where those alleged crimes took place, but the grand jury has not yet met to consider an indictment. Until that happens, Hanna is not required to enter a plea.

Early details about the investigation have called Hanna’s mental health into question.

The judge previously granted the prosecutor’s request for a forensic evaluation. Assistant Attorney General Bud Ellis wrote in his motion that Hanna’s mother told investigators that her son has schizophrenia and may not have been taking his medication. Defense attorney Andrew Wright agreed to that evaluation.

“The State anticipates that one of the likely issues in this case will be whether at the time of the offense the defendant was able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct,” Ellis wrote.

Ellis said that first evaluation has already taken place. Any reports would likely be impounded, and none are currently accessible in the public court file.

Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings said he did not plan to schedule another hearing until the second evaluation has taken place. It is still unclear how a backlog created by the pandemic will impact the timing of the case.

“As we all know, things could improve, remain status quo or get worse,” Ellis wrote in an email. “Court system is just starting to expand operations again but I have no idea how all of this will pan out and would not even begin to speculate.”

“Unfortunately the pandemic has slowed most cases down, especially those with defendants in jail,” Wright wrote. “It has been and will remain a major concern in Mr. Hanna’s case as we address his mental health needs and attempt to keep him free of the pandemic.”

In an interview with police, Hanna said nothing about the alleged crimes. He told police that he was going to do some Christmas shopping in Portland and that he was in a car accident and hurt himself. When a detective asked if he stopped at a Christmas tree farm, Hanna invoked his right to speak with an attorney and ended the interview, the affidavit said.

A few observers and attorneys sat in the courtroom during the hearing. At the start, Wright said he wanted Hanna to know that his mother and sister were there, even if he could not see them. The television screen faced away from the audience.

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