AUGUSTA — A former Skowhegan woman found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity for killing a Troy man on Christmas Eve in 2009 is seeking to move to a new group home in Glenburn to be closer to relatives, a move that comes over the objections of the victim’s family.

Karen McCaul was committed to state custody after being found not criminally responsible for stabbing Richard Howe to death in Skowhegan in 2009. She petitioned the court to be allowed to move from Augusta to a new, 12-bed group home in Glenburn operated by Opportunity House Inc., a nonprofit organization that has provided services to people with intellectual disabilities, autism and mental illness for 35 years.

Members of Howe’s family attended Wednesday’s petition hearing and, though she didn’t originally intend to speak, Howe’s daughter Courtney Munger addressed the court.

Munger said her father was such an amazing man and parent that he would want McCaul, the woman who killed him, to be able to be closer to her family. She said her father would be happy she’s making progress and would want her to be able to continue to make progress in her treatment.

But Munger said she does not agree with McCaul being allowed to move so close to Bangor, where she works as an Emergency Medical Technician driving a paramedic truck, in part because she doesn’t want to risk encountering her father’s killer.

She said coming to hearings that occur each time McCaul has sought to have restrictions on her eased is hard to endure.

“Having more time away (from Riverview Psychiatric Center), that’s great for Karen, it’s great the mental health system is working for her, but as a casualty of the incident I can honestly say, I hate it,” Munger told Justice Michaela Murphy.

Dr. Debra Baeder, chief forensic psychologist for the State Forensic Service, which is charged with evaluating petitioners for the court, said McCaul is remorseful for both the deceased victim and his family. She said it would be reasonable to include, in a court order, restrictions to try to avoid McCaul having any contact with Howe’s family.

“I can understand that would be an emotionally charged experience on both sides,” Baeder said.

Karen McCaul, who was was found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity in the Christmas Eve 2009 stabbing death of Richard Howe, was committed indefinitely to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

Baeder, who has known McCaul since she was committed to state custody, said she has made remarkable progress, developed impressive coping skills to deal with “stressors,” her psychotic symptoms are “virtually entirely remitted,” she takes her medications as directed, is motivated to continue her progress and the risk she poses to the community has been greatly reduced.

Murphy declined to make a decision at the hearing, saying she needs to hear more about the new facility, where state officials said McCaul would likely be the only forensic patient who had been found not criminally responsible of a crime, while the rest of the patients there were committed through the civil process, or there voluntarily.

She and mental health professionals who testified Wednesday said it is important staff at the new facility are trained to deal with a patient found not criminally responsible for a crime and understand the importance of McCaul and her treatment complying with court orders, something they may not be familiar with.

Murphy said she wants to meet with someone from Opportunity House to talk to them about those issues, then make a decision on McCaul’s petition. She said she has faith that Riverview officials are confident it would be a good placement for her, but wants to be sure workers at the new facility would understand the additional requirements.

Asked by Assistant Attorney General Laura Yustak Smith whether she had any concerns about McCaul being placed in a facility with non-forensic patients, Baeder said she did not. She said McCaul’s clinical issues were not dissimilar to those of other mental health patients.

Dr. Carolyn Criss, clinical director of Riverview Outpatient Services, said the move to the new Glenburn facility was sought in large part so McCaul can be closer to her family, including her sister who lives in Bangor. She said when McCaul has visited her sister in the past she has returned relaxed and in a very positive mood.

McCaul has also, in recent years, had two recurrences of cancer, and Criss said the facility in Glenburn would have staff trained to deal with medical issues.

Howe’s body was found just inside the doorway of McCaul’s apartment on Dec. 24, 2009. Howe knew McCaul, 54, who has a long history of mental illness, through his job as a volunteer driver for the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program.

McCaul has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive disorder, polysubstance abuse and paranoid personality disorder.

McCaul, at least twice, has previously and successfully petitioned for additional freedoms after she was initially committed to Riverview. In 2012 she was granted additional time, supervised by Riverview staff, in the community and in 2014 she was allowed to move from Riverview to a nearby group home on Glenridge Drive in Augusta.

The group home in Glenburn is not yet filled but officials anticipate it will eventually have 12 patients, with five to six staff members there each day and at least three staff members there at night.

If the move is approved initially McCaul would continue to be treated by Riverview staff but once she makes the transition there her treatment would eventually be transferred to Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor.

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