AUGUSTA — Two people committed to state custody after being found not criminally responsible for slayings in central Maine have won a little more freedom off the grounds of Riverview Psychiatric Center.

The increase in privileges for Karen McCaul and for Todd Curry came after hearings Friday in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Those committed to state custody after being found not criminally responsible for crimes must petition the court for changes in the conditions under which they are held. Patients cannot petition more often than once every 12 months.

McCaul, 48, had sought permission to be allowed to spend up to eight hours per occasion on Riverview staff-supervised community activities. She now has a four-hour limit, set in November 2011, according to her attorney Harold Hainke. She also asked for up to an hour of unsupervised community activities in Augusta.

In 2010, McCaul was found not criminally responsible for stabbing Richard Howe to death in her Skowhegan apartment. Howe’s body was found just inside the doorway of the apartment on Dec. 24, 2009. Howe knew McCaul through his job as a volunteer driver for the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program.

Several members of Howe’s family sat at the back of the courtroom and watched the hearing Friday but declined to speak. Marian Howe, Howe’s former wife, submitted a one-page statement to the judge before the hearing, which Justice Andrew Horton said he read before ruling.

The Riverview staff supported McCaul’s requests for an increase in privileges.

“I’ve noticed that some of her risk factors have gone down,” testified Pamela S. Miller, a psychiatric nurse practitioner on the unit where McCaul lives.

Miller said McCaul does not have as many outbursts, swearing or self-harming incidents as previously, and was able to handle an eight-week loss of privileges after being caught both using tobacco and selling it to others on the unit. Tobacco is banned at Riverview.

McCaul has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive disorder, polysubstance abuse and paranoid personality disorder, Miller said.

Dr. William Nelson, a psychiatrist who is Riverview’s chief medical officer, said an increase in off-grounds privileges is designed to help McCaul “improve her ability to act independently.”

Dr. Debra Baeder, chief psychologist with the State Forensic Service, which is charged with evaluating petitioners for the court, recommended a phased-in approach to increased unsupervised time, and random drug testing.

“Her life prior to being found (not criminally responsible) was chaotic and disorganized, fueled by a lot of anxiety and paranoia; and as a consequence, she was seeking a lot of drugs to ameliorate that,” Baeder said.

Horton said he would approve a plan that would enable McCaul to earn her way to an hour of unsupervised, unstructured time in the community. That plan would be submitted to the judge later.

“Intuitively, it makes sense to me that Ms. McCaul should participate in structured community activity to demonstrate she can interact in appropriate positive way with others,” he said.

Horton told McCaul she had earned the trust of her treatment team and he hoped she would continue on that path under the new conditions even though it was not exactly what she had requested.

“I think it’s good,” McCaul said, “and I will do a good job.”

At Curry’s hearing, Horton told him he would he could earn up to four hours of unsupervised time if the activities are specified clearly.

He also said Curry could seek a job off the Riverview campus if he is able to hold a hospital-related job for a six-month stretch without a rule violation — adopting a recommendation for Baeder.

In 2007, Curry was found not criminally responsible for the shooting death of 13-year-old Anthony Tucker, the son of Curry’s girlfriend. A psychologist and a psychiatrist testified that Curry had bipolar disorder and had a profound psychosis Nov. 28, 2006, when he shot Tucker with an assault-type rifle outside their Palmyra home.

Rebecca Skolnik, the psychiatric nurse practitioner who works with Curry, testified he already has some unsupervised time in the community and is permitted to leave the hospital with a small group, then break away from the group briefly for shopping or a trip to the gymnasium.

Increasing that time, she said, “allows him to demonstrate safety with less supervision.”

Curry works two hours each morning with the grounds crew at the hospital, a privilege he had lost early in the summer.

“I am impressed by Mr. Curry’s progress since September,” Horton said. “I understand, however, due to a head injury from a motor vehicle accident at age 19, he has some cognitive and other types of limitations that are likely to remain with him for the foreseeable future.”

He told Curry he was getting an opportunity to earn the additional privileges he requested.

“Thank you, your honor,” Curry responded.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
badams@centralmaine.com