AUGUSTA — A man committed to the state’s mental health hospital more than four decades ago in connection with a Portland killing who has also previously escaped from custody and been convicted of rape is now petitioning federal court to be released.

Donald Beauchene, currently held at the Riverview Psychiatric Center after being found not guilty because of mental disease or defect in the 1969 killing of Bernardine Israelson in Portland, claims in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus that he’s being held unconstitutionally because he has no diagnosis the state hospital can treat. A writ of habeas corpus can be brought to determine if a person is being held legally.

“I’m in here for the rest of my life not being treated, just being held,” Beauchene said Tuesday in a phone interview. “That’s warehousing, and that’s unconstitutional.”

Beauchene, 72, filed the handwritten petition himself and asks that he be released from Riverview and from the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. He was placed there after the jury verdict in 1970.

“The only way I will get justice is in federal court, because they go by the law and not by politics and not by games,” Beauchene said.

Originally charged with murder in Israelson’s case, Beauchene said Tuesday he takes responsibility for killing the woman. Authorities said at the time that the 30-year-old Israelson had been stabbed to death after a night at a bar and left mutilated in a parking lot.

“I take full responsibility for what happened in 1969, even though I don’t remember it,” Beauchene said. “I always have taken responsibility. It couldn’t have been anybody but me. It was a horrendous act. I believe I was under the influence of drugs involuntarily taken.”

Beauchene outlines his argument for release in a handwritten “Statement of Facts,” saying that a pretrial psychiatric evaluation in 1970 “found no mental disease or defect.”

However, he adds, “My lawyer got a psychiatrist to testify that I had an ‘explosive personality’ (personality defect). The jury found me ‘Not guilty due to mental disease or defect.'”

Beauchene said no expert testified to that and “the court accepted the personality disorder in place of a mental disease or defect.” He also recounts his failed efforts in the state court system to be removed from the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“If I had a mental disease or defect, it would be to my benefit because they could medicate me and stabilize me,” Beauchene said in the interview.

Beauchene escaped twice from Riverview’s predecessor, the Augusta Mental Health Institute, spent 15 years in prison in New York for rape and sodomy after his second escape, and then five years in a Maine prison for the hospital escape. He’s maintained he’s innocent of the New York charges.

Beauchene was returned to the Maine state mental health hospital in 1998 and a couple of years ago was sure he was never going to get out.

However, his feelings changed as a result of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s decision last month upholding the release of Michael James from the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Here, the trial court found that James’s dangerousness — which still exists — is not the result of a mental disease or defect and that, therefore, DHHS can no longer maintain James in its custody,” wrote Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Joseph Jabar for the five-judge panel that heard the appeal.

James was returned to the state prison system to finish serving the seven years remaining on a 12-year robbery sentence from superior court in Auburn plus a couple of years for other assault convictions.

Beauchene, who thinks he could be freed by his federal court effort, has plans if his petition is successful.

“I’d go to Florida to live with my sister and her husband,” he said. “I want a few years to just relax and take it easy and live like a human being. I’d get Social Security retirement, and that would take care of my needs, and I would be out of Maine.”

The most recent report on Beauchene by Riverview treatment providers, filed in July 2014 in Kennebec County Superior Court, says his psychiatric diagnosis “remains personality disorder, not otherwise specified, with narcissistic and anti-social traits. He is receiving no psychotropic medications and is not considered to pose a threat to himself, other patients or staff at Riverview Psychiatric Center.”

The hospital report supported a plan that would allow him to work in the community within five miles of Riverview Psychiatric Center at an approved work site for up to 24 hours per week. That report has not been acted on.

Beauchene is being held at Riverview under a 2011 order in which a judge found that “Beauchene did not meet the burden of proof by a clear and convincing standard that he would not be a danger to others at this time.”

Beauchene said fear of the past is what’s causing officials to keep him inside Riverview.

“They are looking at what happened as if it’s still happening, and they’re not looking at me today,” he said. “My dangerousness stems from years ago. In the past 17 years since I have been back, I never threatened anybody, never put a hand or never called anybody a name. I’ve never thrown anything, never tried to destroy anything, never had a stat call.”

His petition names as defendants Jay Harper, superintendent of Riverview, and Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. The defendants have yet to be served notice of the complaint.

David Sorensen, spokesman for the department, said in an email Tuesday that the commissioner is routinely named as a defendant in her capacity as commissioner and “as with all pending litigation, we have no comment on this particular lawsuit.”

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John Nivison ruled that in order to continue the proceeding, Beauchene needs to pay a $5 fee by Sept. 23.

“Petitioner’s failure to comply with this order could result in a recommendation that the matter be dismissed for lack of prosecution,” Nivison wrote. On Sept. 2, Nivison also declined to appoint an attorney for Beauchene.

Beauchene said Tuesday he has mailed the check for the $5 fee.

Supporting documents Beauchene filed in the federal case show he has a little more than $400 in a bank account and nets just over $50 a week for about 7 1/2 hours of work at the state hospital for the mentally ill. Now, he spends 1 1/2 hours each weekday mopping and buffing floors in the treatment mall and classrooms, earning minimum wage.

“It’s my only source of income,” he said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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