AUGUSTA — A judge on Friday denied a former Aroostook County man’s petition to move a step closer to being discharged from state custody, which he has been in since he was found not criminally responsible for killing his father in 2004.
Michael D. MacDonald, 39, was put into the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services in 2005 after being found not criminally responsible for the shooting, stabbing and bludgeoning death of his father, also named Michael, in April 2004 at his home in Masardis.
“Mr. MacDonald, you’ve made great strides,” Justice Harold Stewart said at the conclusion of a two-hour hearing at the Capital Judicial Center on MacDonald’s petition for release to community care. However, Stewart said it was “too big of a step” at this point, and he would continue with a modified release plan but change some conditions.
Now MacDonald will be able to move from an Augusta apartment in a building with round-the-clock supervision to an independent residence in Augusta, Hallowell or Gardiner, and acquire a personal vehicle and drive it up to an 80-mile radius of Augusta. The range would cover visits to MacDonald’s mother’s home in Norridgewock and trips to flea markets on the coast.
MacDonald told the judge, “My relationship wasn’t very close with my mother.”
However, he said that since he’s been doing better since his hospitalization, he’s re-establishing a relationship with her and with one of his sisters.
Stewart said MacDonald’s new home would need approval from a Riverview Psychiatric Center outpatient team and that the driving range, at least, should be increased incrementally.
MacDonald currently drives his employer’s van for work up to 25 miles away and works 24 hours a week, the maximum he is permitted under his current conditions.
At the hearing, Carmen Wright, intensive case manager on the Riverview Outpatient Team, testified that MacDonald’s petition for release — the last step prior to discharge — was supported by the team.
The release allows a person to become established with a psychiatrist in the community rather than the Riverview Outpatient Team psychiatrist that MacDonald has been seeing twice a month.
“Mike has not had a relapse since 2012,” Wright said. “He continues to show that he becomes more independent with court orders and maxes them (out) pretty quick.”
MacDonald’s attorney, Harold Hainke, said release status would mimic what it was like to be discharged from the custody of the commissioner. He argued that it would be a “true benefit for Mr. MacDonald and for the safety of the public.”
Robert Lamoreau, risk manager program director, said MacDonald had gained the team’s trust and was a good candidate for release.
“It’s a step of preparing the person for an eventual transition to community providers when there’s not control over that at all,” Lamoreau said.
MacDonald has been diagnosed with major recurrent depression, cannabis abuse in remission, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Dr. Annette Sanchez, who was in her final day as a contract psychiatrist with Riverview, testified that MacDonald takes an antidepressant medication as well as a medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
She said he was discharged from the hospital to live in the community in 2013.
Ann LeBlanc, director of the State Forensic Service, which evaluates people for the court, testified that MacDonald had no failures on his current medication regimen and no psychosis since he was found not criminally responsible.
“He tries to keep work at half time and participates in the SMART Recovery (an addiction recovery support group) program,” she said. “He has mutual friendships. He helps out his friends just as much as they help him out.”
LeBlanc said he had “a unique level of insight” when he raised concerns about what would happen if he had a psychotic relapse when he was out of the custody of the commissioner.
“What the team is proposing is a chance for Mr. MacDonald to have a very high level of independence and possibly fail,” LeBlanc said. “If there was a glitch, he would still be in custody of the commissioner.”
Assistant Attorney General Laura Yustak said the state had concerns about MacDonald moving to release status. She argued that the transition in housing and health care providers will be stressful, so he should have the maximum contacts with the Riverview Outpatient Team during the transition period. Stewart ordered MacDonald to continue with twice-monthly psychiatric provider visits. Wright testified she anticipated continuing to see MacDonald weekly.
Yustak also asked that MacDonald’s road trips be pre-approved by the outpatient team.
The judge said letters from the elder MacDonald’s children, who live out of state, serve as a reminder that public safety is paramount.
He also ordered that any violations of MacDonald’s conditions be reported to the court by Riverview personnel.
Betty Adams — 621-5631