AUGUSTA — A woman diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when she starved her 5-year-old daughter to death in 1993 asked a judge Friday to discharge her from state custody.
Tonia Kigas Porter has lived in her own apartment in Augusta — unsupervised other than monthly visits with her mental health workers — since 2010. Before that, she was in a supervised apartment since 2003.
She has worked well with her treatment team, is painfully aware of what she did to her daughter and is committed to taking her medication so nothing like that happens again, said Ann LeBlanc, a psychologist and director of the State Forensic Service. Porter also has friends and has volunteered extensively in the community for nearly 10 years and would not present an increased risk to the community if she were discharged, LeBlanc said.
Under questioning during a hearing before Justice Michaela Murphy in Kennebec County Superior Court, however, LeBlanc said she could not guarantee that Porter would keep taking her medication or seeing a psychologist, and thus never again become a public risk.
“Ms. Porter has demonstrated almost classic, ideal progression,” LeBlanc said. “She’s been absolutely reliable about taking her medication. She’s very clear about her role in the loss of her daughter. It’s something that is very painful, that she is very aware of and would not want to repeat. Ms. Porter has demonstrated she will take her medications.”
But, LeBlanc conceded, “I can’t guarantee that.”
Murphy said she would take the case under advisement and then issue a written decision as soon as she could on whether to discharge Porter from state control.
Her daughter, Tavielle Kigas, starved to death in their Bangor apartment after Porter withheld food and water from her for almost six weeks, according to newspaper accounts.
Porter, who told police at the time that she believed her daughter was evil, was found not guilty of the murder of reason of insanity. She was committed to state custody following a 1995 finding in Penobscot County Superior Court that she was “not criminally responsible by reason of mental disease or defect of the offense of murder.”
Laura Yustak Smith, a state assistant attorney general, agreed on Friday that Porter has made remarkable progress over the last 18 years and doesn’t appear to be a physical threat to either the community or herself.
However, Smith expressed concern that Porter recently decided to stop volunteering with the Bread of Life Soup Kitchen, where she has volunteered for nearly 10 years, and instead perform unpaid work for a friend’s cleaning business.
Smith said the state’s concerns include whether Porter is being taken advantage of by the friend, and whether that reflects a larger concern about her judgment.
On the witness stand, Porter said she’d been working at the soup kitchen, helping cook, serve and clean for so long that she felt it was time to try something else. She planned to try volunteering in her cleaning job for a couple of months and, if it didn’t work out, she could return to the soup kitchen.
Asked how important she thought it is for her to take her medication, Porter answered, “very important.” Porter said she will continue to receive treatment if she is discharged, through Crisis and Counseling, where she has already established relationships with mental health workers.
She said she plans to stay in Augusta, where she has friends.
Dr. Mitchell Manin, a psychiatrist at Riverview Psychiatric Center who has treated Porter, said Porter would not present a risk to the community if she continues with her treatment and medication. He said there is a “great likelihood” she’ll continue with her treatment and medications, and he had no reservations about Porter being discharged.
Porter has previously been adamant that Manin call in her prescription renewals during their appointments, because, he said, “she never wants to be without them.”
“She feels terrible about what happened and never wants to see that happen again,” Manin said.
Manin also speculated that feeding people at the soup kitchen may have been a way Porter helped fill the void she felt over her daughter’s starvation.
Porter has been moving toward discharge in a series of small steps since she was committed, moving from Riverview to a supervised apartment and to her current apartment, where she lives on her own.
LeBlanc said someone who has been found not criminally responsible for a homicide being released from state custody occurs about once every two years.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647