A former Riverview Psychiatric Center patient convicted of assaulting a mental health worker there wants that conviction thrown out.

Mark P. Murphy, who is serving a sentence at the Maine State Prison for the March 16, 2013, aggravated assault that left Jaime Hill-Spotswood with a pen tip embedded in her hand, wants a new trial. He was convicted in January 2014 following a one-day bench trial that took place in October 2013 in Kennebec County Superior Court.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in the case last week in Portland. A ruling is anticipated later in writing.

Murphy was represented by attorney Scott Hess and the state — which seeks to uphold the conviction and sentence— by Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney.

Hess told the justices during the oral argument that the most important issue was “the lack of waiver of Mr. Murphy’s constitutional right to testify in his own defense.”

Hess said that nothing in the record of the trial, where Murphy was represented by attorney Charles T. Ferris, indicates that Murphy waived that right.

“The court’s never held that a silent record is sufficient,” Hess said.

Witnesses at the trial testified that the day before the March 16, 2013, attack, Murphy was angry because the staff had canceled his Saturday visit to his parents’ home in Kittery. The state maintained that anger — not mental illness — drove Murphy to attack Hill-Spotswood, who was about 18 weeks pregnant at the time.

Justice Donald Alexander asked, “Here the counsel indicated that his client wasn’t going to testify. What’s wrong with that?”

Hess said the defense attorney told the trial judge that Dr. Carlyle Voss would be the only witness for the defense.

At that trial, Ferris conceded that Murphy had committed the assault, but that he should not be held responsible because he was mentally ill at the time.

At trial, Ferris questioned Voss, a forensic psychiatrist, who had evaluated Murphy.

“His ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of what he was doing was severely impaired because of his psychotic thinking,” Voss testified.

Voss said Murphy told him that he believed, “If he killed Jamie and brought her back to life, it would release her from her ties to her husband and he could then marry her.”

Hess argued that in Murphy’s case in particular, which involves a person who is profoundly mentally ill, delusional and occasionally psychotic, it was particularly important for the trial judge to inquire about Murphy’s decision against testifying.

In her brief, Maloney said, “There was a very plausible reason why, after conferring with his counsel, Murphy would have decided not to testify. His mental health history and mental health condition at the time of the assault would be presented to the court through the testimony of Drs. (Carolyn) Criss, (Andrew) Wisch and Voss.”

At the oral argument, Maloney said, “It is clear from the record that defense counsel had the ability to put on the case that they wished.”

She also noted that Murphy addressed the court at his sentencing hearing. At sentencing, Murphy apologized for the attack and said, “If I’d been able to talk more about my feelings, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley asked how much weight should be given to the fact that Murphy had spent years on a forensic ward at the state hospital.

“People do not find themselves in that facility for long periods of time without substantial mental health issues,” she said. “Isn’t that something that should weigh fairly heavily in the judge’s factual findings here?”

Maloney said it was a consideration in the case but not a presumption.

“The court needs to look at all the evidence, and in this case we do have Dr. Wisch who had the opinion that (Murphy’s) actions came from anger, not from the result of his mental disease or defect, and the court found that persuasive as well as the testimony from many others in this case,” Maloney said.

Saufley also asked about Murphy’s explanation for the attack.

“The resurrection idea was not voiced by Mr. Murphy until June,” Maloney said. “The days following the assault, he gave the middle finger to several workers and expressed his anger in many other ways as well and continued to talk about the cookies that he had missed that his parents had baked that he hadn’t been able to eat because of his home visit being canceled.”

The state agreed that the three assault charges should be merged since they involved the same event, but argued against a new sentencing hearing.

“The trial judge was clear that the sentence of 15 years, all suspended but 10, with two years’ probation was for (the elevated aggravated assault),” according to the state’s brief.

The assault by Murphy in the Lower Saco Unit at the hospital touched off heightened security concerns, prompting the hospital to bring in state and county corrections officers to monitor specific patients.

However, officers were stripped of stun guns and handcuffs in May after federal regulators objected to the new measures, and the county officers were gone by the end of August. The attack also triggered a federal audit of the hospital, which resulted in the loss of its eligibility for $20 million in federal money — about half of the hospital’s budget.

Hill-Spotswood, now 28, sued the state in federal court, maintaining that the state failed to protect her after she told others at the hospital that she feared for her safety. That lawsuit was later dismissed.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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