VERDICT ON BENCH TRIAL
Donald H. Marden, Superior Court Justice
Defendant was indicted on April 17, 2013, on Count I: Elevated Aggravated Assault (Class A); Count II: Elevated Aggravated Assault (Class A); and Count III: Aggravated Assault (Class B). The indictment arises out of an incident of March 16, 2013 at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. Count I alleges that on that date and place the Defendant "did intentionally or knowingly cause serious bodily injury to Jamie Hill-Spotswood with the use of a dangerous weapon, a pen." In Count II, it alleges that on the date and place in question, Defendant "did engage in conduct that manifested a depraved indifference to the value of human life and that in fact caused serious bodily injury to Jamie Hill-Spotswood with the use of a dangerous weapon, a pen." Finally, Count III alleges that Defendant on that date and place "did intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause serious bodily injury to Jamie Hill-Spotswood."
A waiver of jury trial was filed September 4, 2013 and trial was held before the court.
On March 16, 2013, at the Riverview Psychiatric Center, Jamie Hill-Spotswood, a mental health worker, was in the process of executing a check of the unit's bathroom. She saw the Defendant enter the bathroom just before she got to the area of the bathroom. As she was passing by, the Defendant came out of the bathroom and addressed Ms. Hill-Spotswood saying, "I'm sorry Jamie, " and then immediately began a vicious attack on Ms. Hill-Spotswood by stabbing her repeatedly on the top of her head with a ball-point pen. Attempting to protect herself, Ms. Hill-Spotswood placed her hands on her head during the attack and dropped to the ground screaming for another mental health worker. A second mental health worker, Ms. Vigue, approached the Defendant and he initiated an assault on Ms. Vigue as well. As she was unable to control the Defendant, a Riverview client came out of his room near the attack and tackled the Defendant to the ground where he restrained the Defendant until additional staff was able to respond. Ms. Hill-Spotswood had a significant amount of blood dripping down her head from lacerations and she felt a great deal of pain in her right hand where she received defensive wounds. The injury to Ms. Hill-Spotswood's hand was serious enough to require subsequent surgery.
Upon being restrained, the Defendant was handcuffed and escorted to a seclusion room. Two days later, Defendant explained his rage at staff at Riverview because they had denied him his usual privileges, including a trip to Kittery to visit with his family and denial of a walk on the grounds. Defendant did not offer an explanation of why he assaulted the staff member. His discussion and demeanor were consistent with a person who was very angry because he did not get his needs met.
Defendant had a history of contention with various staff members. Some months prior the Defendant had discussed with staff his thoughts about having to "hurt someone" in order to leave the hospital. Defendant has a diagnosis including Schizoaffective Disorder, mood and psychotic symptoms following closed head injury, PTSD, alcohol and cocaine abuse, Personality Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder with Psychosis.
It is the State's responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant acted intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly. If that is proven, the Defendant, under his plea, must then prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his conduct is excused because, as a result of a mental defect, he lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his criminal conduct. 17-A M.R.S.A. § 39; Taylor v. Commission, 481 A.2d 139 (Me. 1984).
For the few days following the assault, the Defendant expressed his denial of any memory of the event although he admitted that at some point he was aware that he had the pen in his hand. In June, three months later, during the course of forensic psychiatric and psychological examinations from the Maine State Forensic Service, he first explained that while in his room that day he became preoccupied with the idea that he was not married. He wanted a wife and he wanted to be married to Ms. Hill-Spotswood. He knew that it was impossible inasmuch as she. was married to CJ Spotswood and therefore she could not marry anyone else. He stated that he understood her vows included, "to death do you part." He told the psychiatrist that he decided to resolve this by killing her and then bringing her back to life and marrying her. He then explained that he came out of his room planning to go the nursing station to talk to Ms. Hill-Spots wood, but she was doing bathroom checks. According to Ms version, he went into the bathroom but the toilet was plugged with feces and paper and he exited. Taking the view of the toilet as a sign, he decided "1 had to do it." He then assaulted Ms. Hill-Spots wood with the intent of killing her to fulfill his delusion that she would marry him after he brought her back to life. He admited saying, "I am sorry, " to Ms. Hill-Spotswood prior to the attack, but denied that he committed an act sufficient to kill her.
Evidence of circumstances leading up to the incident in question is instructive. There was an incident on March 15 in which the Defendant was informed that his usual weekend trip to visit his parents was cancelled due to the Team's concern for his safety. Hearing that his pass would be delayed by one week he became obviously very frustrated and angry and felt that the postponement was arbitrary and punitive. On March 16, the Defendant requested to review his medical records and formally requested to be allowed to go on an unsupervised walk and to be allowed to Skype his parents at 10:00. A registered nurse instructed that she wanted Mr. Murphy to remain in the hospital due to the Team's concerns and he seemed to agree.
The Forensic Psychologist testified that the Defendant's statement just prior to the assault, "I'm sorry, " suggests that he was aware at the time that assaulting her was wrong. Obviously, too, his story of desire to kill the victim so that she would no longer be married and available to him, expressed an intent to kill. The psychologist was skeptical of the Defendant's self-report because he found the motivation for the assault and the reason for the apology to be extraordinarily illogical even for someone who is actively delusional. Further, the psychologist noted that the Defendant made no statements either before or after the assault that were consistent with his current explanation. The psychologist noted the documentation in the Riverview psychiatric set of medical records indicating that Defendant was very angry when his privileges were restricted the day before the incident. Further, on the morning of the incident, he was denied his request to go for a walk and appeared very angry, causing some fear on the part of the nurse. The records further indicate that his state of anger persisted, at least by anger at the Riverview staff. The psychologist further noted that the Defendant has held the belief in the past that if he kills someone at Riverview, he would be able to leave, even though there is no indication he had that belief at the time of this assault.
The psychologist found no evidence that the Defendant's mental illness interfered with his ability to act in a planned, goal-directed way at the time of the allegations. His behavior both prior to and after the incident reflect that he was engaging in reality-based interactions with staff members. Finally, the psychologist concludes that all of the circumstances surrounding this particular incident indicate that it is "behavior that is a departure from his base-line thinking and behavior of recent years."
On the other hand, the forensic psychiatrist found an abnormal condition of mind, including that the Defendant was suffering from a mental illness that impaired his ability to perform in a culpable state of mind. He indicated he was not able to act rationally, and while he acted intentionally, it was based on psychotic distortions and misperceptions. The pychiatrist noted that the Defendant's symptoms may emerge unpredictably, but he is not clear as to why the Defendant appeared to be getting worse in the days before he assaulted Ms. Hill-Spotswood, and he opined that he did not believe his actions could be understood on the basis that he was angry and acting out of anger. In his testimony, the psychiatrist admitted that the defendant's explanation for his reasons for the attack are what he described as a sense of grandiosity and were not consistent with previous historical delusions.
Both the psychiatrist and the psychologist conclude that in addition to the Defendant's diagnosis of paranoia he also has a personality disorder. Such a disorder, as anti-social personality, is a personality trait that puts a person in conflict with society.
The elements of the offenses as charged have clearly been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. At issue is whether the Defendant has presented sufficient evidence to establish by a preponderance that the Defendant "lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of the criminal conduct." 17-A M.R.S.A. § 39. This lack of substantial capacity must arise as a result of mental disease or defect, which means, "only those severely abnormal mental conditions that grossly and demonstrably impair a person's perception or understanding of reality." It is beyond dispute that on the day of the attack the Defendant was very angry. This anger was directed to the staff of Riverview who had denied him privileges he had enjoyed in the past because of an agitated state which had been developing in the period prior to March 16. However, ...