AUGUSTA — The man found not criminally responsible for a 1999 arson that caused more than $2 million in damage at Skowhegan State Fairgrounds and later convicted of damaging Riverview Psychiatric Center property has won court permission to live in a group home once he finishes serving his most recent prison term next month.

A transition plan was approved Friday for Charles D. Miles, now 36. He has been serving a sentence for damaging hospital property and threatening to harm staff.

His release date from the Maine State Prison, where he has been housed in the Intensive Mental Health Unit, is late June, and he will be returned to the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. Normally that would place him back at Riverview Psychiatric Center, the state forensic hospital, where he has spent time on and off since 1999.

Instead, he is expected to move directly into a group home.

Miles, previously of Skowhegan, confessed April 1, 1999, to starting the March 30 fire that spread to three buildings at the fairgrounds and took firefighters nearly 15 hours to put out.

Miles was charged with arson, criminal mischief and burglary in connection with what the Morning Sentinel at the time called “a destructive March 30 rampage through Skowhegan that began at the fairgrounds.” He also broke into a bank, overturning files and doing other damage, broke windows and a door at North Elementary School and broke into a North Avenue house after the fire.

Miles was brought to the Capital Judicial Center Friday and escorted into the courtroom, where he remained for less than five minutes. He was in a bright orange jail uniform, handcuffed and shackled, and two Kennebec County sheriff’s deputies stood near him. In contrast, the other petitioners seeking a judge’s approval for modifications in their treatment, housing and free time were all in street clothes and sat outside the courtroom with treatment providers and family members. Miles did not speak to the judge.

Under the order approved by Justice Donald Marden, Miles will be permitted to live in a group home where the staffing ratio is one staff person to each client seven days a week around the clock.

The order was negotiated between Assistant District Attorney David Spencer and Miles’ attorney, Harold Hainke. The provisions also were recommended by hospital treatment staff at Riverview.

“Based on observation and progress to date, it appears that Miles is an appropriate candidate for a structured release to the community,” says a portion of a clinical summary by his doctors. “Many of the issues that remain are related to institutional practice and familiarity. For him to progress further, a community-based experience with opportunities to use existing skills in a more ‘normal’ context is indicated.”

The judge’s order is very specific: “While in the group home, his 1:1 staff will help with his activities of daily living and coach him to make a schedule, go for walks, go shopping, go to the movies, get to an exercise facility and work a little at an outdoor job.”

Miles is to be permitted to use a laptop with monitoring software and access to music and a printer to print out his poetry.

The order also says that Miles needs to understand that Internet and music access is not available to him if he has to be readmitted to Riverview.

The hospital report indicates that Miles has spent most of his life in institutions.

“Psychiatric issues, possible residual effects of brain injury and developmental issues have compromised and influenced Miles’ relationships with others and his adaptation to his environment,” the report states.

It also says he has not harmed anyone: “He has destroyed property but quite literally had gone out of his way to avoid harming others when injuring himself or damaging items.”

Miles was previously sentenced to 96 months in federal prison for mailing threatening letters to former President Bill Clinton in the early 2000s, and he had also reportedly sent threatening letters to other state and federal officials.

The hospital also recommends that Miles’ “progression and privilege level should remain dependent upon his participation in mental health treatment, engagement with his treatment team and his ability to maintain safety for himself and those around him.”

The 1999 fire, reported at about 2:30 a.m. March 30, started in a storage area under the grandstand, where Miles lit fire to curtains in a mobile home. It spread to seven buildings, destroying three, including the grandstand and exhibition hall. The historic grandstand dated back to the late 1800s and had survived a 1934 fire and 1960 tornado.

Morning Sentinel reports at the time said that equipment and property stored for the winter under the grandstand, as well as vehicles, were also destroyed, and five private homes were damaged by heat, smoke and flying embers. Eleven fire departments responded to the blaze.

Miles entered dual pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity in July 1999. He was determined not criminally responsible in November of that year. He was sentenced to be “held in a state institution until he’s judged no danger to himself or others,” according to a Morning Sentinel report from Nov. 2, 1999.

“The sentence likely means a life sentence in the prison-like forensic unit at the Augusta Mental Health Institute for a man who has already spent most of his life in mental institutions or jails,” the Sentinel article said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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