AUGUSTA — Tonia Kigas Porter was freed from state custody Friday for the first time in almost 20 years.
The 49-year-old woman had been committed to the commissioner of the Department of Health & Human Services after being found not criminally responsible for murder for starving her 5-year-old daughter to death in 1993 in Bangor.
A judge in Kennebec County Superior Court ordered Porter discharged after the state, her psychiatrist and the State Forensic Service said they all supported it for Porter, who most recently was diagnosed and treated for cancer.
“She has managed those losses and difficulties with great dignity,” said Ann LeBlanc, director of the State Forensic Service.
Porter has been living in Augusta and doing volunteer work there for years and getting support from people in the community.
Justice Donald Marden asked LeBlanc what Porter’s reaction would be to seeing her photo in the newspaper.
“She’s learned one day your picture shows up on the front page and two days later, people forget about it,” LeBlanc said.
Marden said statements by those testifying on Friday convinced him that Porter has worked hard to recover.
“There’s no question Ms. Porter bears a heavy burden,” Marden said.
J. Mitchell Flick, Porter’s attorney, told the judge Porter is particularly conscientious about taking her medication and “extremely likely to succeed.”
Assistant Attorney General Laura Yustak Smith said that once Porter recovered from her severe psychosis, she was distressed and remorseful about what she had done.
“I think it’s a good thing when a person recognizes how serious it was and has the remorse because that’s the beginning of the recovery and can give the public some comfort that the person knows this was a bad thing,” Yustak Smith said.
Porter was committed to state custody in 1995.
Yustak Smith said she contacted family members of the victim prior to the hearing to discuss Porter’s potential discharge, and learned one was deceased and the other did not want to attend the hearing.
Porter hugged treatment providers and others from Riverview Psychiatric Center and from the hospital’s Assertive Community Treatment Team.
She is expected to continue with community-based treatment.
During a separate hearing in the same court Friday, Kirk T. Lambert also was discharged from the custody of the commissioner.
Lambert, 33, had been committed to state custody in 2000, following a verdict of not criminally responsible for robbery in an incident in which his lawyer said he wheeled a TV out of Walmart.
LeBlanc testified that Lambert was admitted to Riverview “and he stabilized quite quickly on medications.” She also said he has been dealing with an ongoing substance abuse issue.
Lambert has moved several times between the state hospital and the community, and several witnesses said he appeared overly dependent on Riverview and it was time for him to move on now that his mental illness is being treated and there has been no evidence of psychosis.
Instead of readmitting him recently, LeBlanc said, the hospital offered him a list of homeless shelters.
LeBlanc described Lambert, whose head is shaved, as “a good hair cutter,” and a person who is creative and makes beautiful quilts.
She said it appeared unlikely he would injure himself or others and that he plans to move to northern Maine where his father is a registered Maine Guide.
“He has been clean and sober for six months and quite committed to staying clean and sober,” she said.
LeBlanc said Lambert “was compassionate to other people with major mental illness who couldn’t help themselves.”
In March 2013, Lambert was a patient at Riverview when he was credited with rescuing a mental health worker there who was under attack by another patient.
The state, through Assistant District Attorney David Spencer, raised no objection to Lambert’s release.
“You are entitled to be discharged and have worked hard to bring yourself to this position,” Marden told Lambert. “You have some issues that you’re really going to have to stay on top of if you’re going to stay out of trouble.”
Marden warned him that people who don’t address substance issues “become very involved in the criminal justice system. In the final analysis, what happens is entirely up to you.”