AUGUSTA — A former Aroostook County man found not criminally responsible for the April 2004 killing of his father was released Thursday from state custody over written objections from his sister and his son.

Michael D. MacDonald, 40, who lives in his own apartment in Hallowell, was congratulated by the judge and praised by treatment providers and forensic evaluators for the transformation he’s undergone since 2012.

He had been committed in November 2005 to the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, after the acceptance of his plea, and placed at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta for treatment.

Thursday’s discharge followed a hearing at the Capital Judicial Center.

Dr. Carolyn Criss, who treated MacDonald in her role as psychiatrist with the outpatient services team at Riverview Psychiatric Center, testified on his behalf.

“He’s transformed over the last decade into a mature adult who has goals and is focused on making a life for himself,” she said.

Criss said he’s used support and information he acquired at Riverview and elsewhere to develop insight into his problems with substance abuse, mood, attention and concentration. She said a combination of medication MacDonald began taking in 2012 was a turning point. Criss said MacDonald’s current diagnosis includes depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. She said the psychotic symptoms he exhibited at the time of the killing are gone, and he has been off antipsychotic medication for some time.

She also said that in recommending discharge, she asks herself how she would feel if the person was her neighbor.

“Even knowing everything I do about Mr. MacDonald, I’d be quite happy if he was my neighbor,” Criss told Justice Donald Marden.

A full discharge from state custody after being found not criminally responsible for a killing is relatively rare. In November 2011, Maria Austin, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1997 beating death of her 4-year-old daughter, was discharged; and in May 2014, Tonia Kigas Porter, who was found not criminally responsible for murder for starving her 5-year-old daughter to death in 1993 in Bangor, was discharged.

MacDonald was 25 when he was charged with shooting, stabbing and bludgeoning his father, Michael W. MacDonald, 47, to death at his home in Masardis and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. He was found not criminally responsible for both offenses.

MacDonald’s sister, Bo Knight, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky, did not attend Thursday’s hearing, but she submitted a letter and a copy of her 2005 impact statement about her father’s death to the court. Knight, who also sent copies of the items to the Kennebec Journal, said Thursday by telephone that she had to drive to Maine to clean up the home when her father was killed 14 years ago. She said she has opposed any changes every time MacDonald petitions the court for a change in privileges.

“My fear is for the family that I still have in Maine,” she said, adding, “I have been made to feel that my feelings are inconsequential to the state of Maine and the staff at Riverview from Day 1.”

In the letter she sent to the court in anticipation of Thursday’s hearing, she wrote, “Michael gets rehabilitation; I get to live everyday of my life with what he has done. He gets to ask for, and may get, released; I get a life sentence for what he has done. Bad choices have been made before in life. I pray that one is not made today.”

MacDonald’s son’s objection to the discharge was not made public in court.

In March 2017, a judge rejected MacDonald’s petition to move to full release status, but that was granted in January this year. Those committed to the custody of the commissioner can petition the court at six-month intervals for changes in the conditions under which they are held. Most seek privileges that allow them time in the community.

MacDonald, whose head is shaved and who wore a deep purple shirt, testified Thursday, saying he has contact with his mother’s side of the family — but not his father’s — and that he had no plan to return to Aroostook County.

When Assistant Attorney General Laura Yustak asked him about his community supports, MacDonald told her he has made a number of friends through SMART Recovery, an addiction recovery support group, and has a good relationship with his doctor.

“Everyone involved in my life knows the situation and how to get me help,” MacDonald said.

He said he’s distributed to his friends cards with information about contacting the State Forensic Services. He said both they and he would recognize when things weren’t going well.

MacDonald said he’s learned to see people differently and sees value in them, a contrast to his earlier attitudes. He holds a job performing maintenance at group homes and supported apartments for 24 hours a week, and works shifts ranging from four hours to 12.

Ann LeBlanc, a forensic psychologist who recently retired as director of the State Forensic Service and now does evaluations for the court under contract with the state, told Justice Donald Marden on Thursday that she has seen a sea change in MacDonald.

“When he killed his father, he was basically unsocialized,” she said.

LeBlanc said he had had only exploitative and violent relationships and no normal adult responsibilities.

“He had no idea of what a mutual relationship would be like,” she said.

Today he’s far different, LeBlanc said, and now has good friends and is helpful to other patients.

“He’s learned how to plan ahead, and he’s gotten the ability to plan ahead,” she said.

Both Criss and LeBlanc noted that MacDonald had saved up to buy a new car, and when the Kennebec River flooded last winter, he had to act swiftly to move the car away from the water, find a place to stay temporarily and remain in contact with Riverview’s outpatient team so he didn’t violate the conditions of his modified release plan.

“I don’t now of another NCR patient that bought a new car,” LeBlanc said. “He had to save and plan and defer gratification.”

She also said MacDonald told her the skills he’s learned in SMART Recovery will help him resist a relapse into substance abuse.

Marden asked LeBlanc whether MacDonald’s father was the source of abuse that was indicated in some of the files.

“We don’t know whether it was delusion or whether it actually happened,” she said.

MacDonald’s attorney, Harold “Hank” Hainke, told the judge that Thursday’s witnesses have shown that MacDonald was ready for discharge without particular risk to the community or himself.

“He has the ability to seek support whenever necessary,” Hainke said, listing the various community supports in place for MacDonald. “All of these things help you avoid crimes and avoid ill health of any kind. That should make the court feel confident that discharge is a good idea.”

Yustak alluded to MacDonald’s prior convictions for assault and aggravated assault that occurred before the killing, and she asked that those, as well as revocations of privileges in 2006 and 2012, be referenced in the discharge order.

Marden addressed MacDonald directly at the close of the hearing in a voice full of emotion, telling him that he was listening to the witnesses and reflecting on his years as both a judge and prosecutor.

“I’m thinking what a magnificent thing you’ve done, and to sit here and explain to me when you recognized you became a different person, I know it is a long hard road,” he said. “A lot of people in state prison and in Columbia, South Carolina, never been put in a position to take that road.”

Marden asked MacDonald to turn to the two dozen people in the public area of the courtroom — mostly Riverview personnel — and applaud them for their work. Then Marden applauded MacDonald for his efforts.

Once the hearing ended, MacDonald exchanged hugs with a number of people, including his treatment providers, as he made his way out of the courtroom.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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Twitter: @betadams

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