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State v. Proia

Supreme Court of Maine

July 27, 2017


          Argued: May 10, 2017

          Valerie A. Randall, Esq. (orally), and Patrick H. Gordon, Esq., Fairfield & Associates, P.A., Portland, for appellant Thomas A. Proia

          Kathryn L. Slattery, District Attorney, and Shira S. Burns, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Prosecutorial District 1, Alfred, for appellee State of Maine


          HJELM, J.

         [¶1] Thomas A. Proia appeals from a judgment entered in the trial court (York County, Douglas, J.) after a jury-waived trial, convicting him of a number of charges, including crimes of violence, arising from an incident where he engaged in conduct while affected by a distorted view of reality. Proia contends that the court erred in its application of the statutory principle of abnormal condition of the mind, see 17-A M.R.S. § 38 (2016), and that the evidence was insufficient for the court to find beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted with the culpable states of mind necessary to commit the crimes for which he was convicted.[1] Finding no error, we affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts found by the court bear on the issues relevant to this appeal and are supported by the evidence. See State v. Jones, 2012 ME 88, ¶6, 46A.3d1125.

         [¶3] On October 19, 2015, while running an errand, Proia developed increasingly paranoid and delusional beliefs that he was being followed and was in danger. He returned to his residence, where another family member was present, and he retrieved two assault rifles from the attic. He gave one firearm to the family member, kept the other, and proceeded to fire approximately thirty rounds in various directions from both inside and outside the home. When he left the house to search in the nearby woods for "demons" that he thought he may have shot, the family member remained inside and, after retreating to an upstairs bathroom, called 9-1-1.

         [¶4] Still in an agitated state, Proia returned to the house, entered the bathroom without the firearm, and told the family member that they were both being threatened by people outside. The 9-1-1 call was terminated at some point, but a dispatcher called back when Proia was lying on top of the family member in the bathroom, ostensibly as protection from the perceived threat. The recording of the return call from the dispatcher captured the sounds of a struggle and of Proia yelling as he prepared to commit sexual assault on the family member. The family member was able to escape by running outside and was eventually taken to safety by a responding police officer.

         [¶5] Proia then went to a neighbors property, where he and the occupants of the neighbors house saw each other through a window. Proia threw a rock through the window, resulting in a laceration to the chest and shoulder of one of the residents. Another neighbor called the police because Proia had also broken one of the windows in that neighbors house. Police arrived at the scene and ordered Proia to the ground, but he did not comply. Officers twice used a Taser in an attempt to subdue Proia. Even then and after being handcuffed, Proia continued to struggle. He was speaking rapidly and had a frothy substance around his mouth. The officers took Proia to a hospital, where he remained agitated until he was sedated.

         [¶6] After being charged initially by complaint, Proia was indicted for the ten counts described below and pleaded not guilty to all charges. At a two-day bench trial held in August 2016, the evidence included the testimony of two expert psychological witnesses presented by Proia and Proias own testimony. Proia did not plead not guilty by reason of insanity, see 17-A M.R.S. § 39 (2016), but instead challenged the States proof of his mens rea. At the conclusion of the trial, the court made extensive oral findings of fact and found Proia guilty of seven of the ten charges: domestic violence reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, namely, a firearm, (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. §§211-A(1)(A), 1252(4) (2016); aggravated assault (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. §208(1)(B) (2016); two counts of attempted gross sexual assault (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. §§152(1)(B), 253(1)(B) (2016);[2] domestic violence assault (Class D), 17-AM.R.S. § 207-A(1)(A) (2016); endangering the welfare of a child (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. §§ 554(1)(C), 1201(1)(A-1)(2) (2016); and criminal mischief (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. §806(1)(A) (2016). For reasons unrelated to Proias state of mind, the court acquitted Proia of the remaining three charges: reckless conduct with the use of a dangerous weapon (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. §§211(1), 1252(4) (2016); unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 1103(1-A)(E) (2016); and refusing to submit to arrest (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. § 751-B(1)(B) (2016).

         [¶7] In its findings, the court stated that "[t]here is clearly evidence in this case that is relevant to the defense of abnormal condition of the mind ... including [Proias] extreme anxiety, paranoia, delusions, agitated speech, [and] so forth, [which] reflect that he was experiencing some sort of agitated condition and a distorted perception of reality." Framing the legal issue, the court stated that

even though an individual may be operating under an impaired or altered perception of reality or other irrational mode of thinking at the time of an incident, the question is whether that condition, the abnormal condition of the mind, the mental disease or defect, however its termed, whether that condition negated, prevented the formation of the required culpable state of mind, and it is the States obligation to prove beyond a reasonable ...

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