AUGUSTA — A Waterville woman who started multiple small fires with Molotov cocktails in her Cool Street neighborhood last year has been found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

Melissa Jane Breznyak, 37, had her plea of not criminally responsible in connection with four counts each of arson and criminal use of explosives accepted by a judge on Friday. Breznyak was taken from court to the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor. She was committed to the custody of the commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services until authorities agree it would not pose a risk to herself or the public to release her following treatment.

Police and fire officials said it appeared Breznyak was in a mental health crisis when she set fires in her neighborhood on June 18, 2022, and in their interactions with her the previous day when officers responded to her apartment after she had called for help.

Authorities said the fires started by Breznyak appeared to have been ignited by Molotov cocktails made out of wine bottles with gasoline and a cloth material in them to serve as a wick. The fires burned only trees and brush, not any homes or other structures.

Prosecutor Michael Madigan, an assistant district attorney, said each of the four set fires went out on their own. But he noted the dangerous combination of gasoline and fire certainly could have injured someone, including firefighters or others.

“There is always the concern, given the nature of the materials here, anytime something of that nature, with a combustible material such as gasoline, represents a significant risk,” Madigan said. “They were, essentially, explosive devices.”


Madigan said the state did not dispute the finding of not criminally responsible.

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy, after reading a mental health evaluation of Breznyak, said there was abundant evidence in the evaluation and in the statements Breznyak made at and around the time of her arrest, that due to mental illness she lacked the ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of her conduct in starting the fires. Murphy said the burden of proving Breznyak was not criminally responsible had been met, and it was clear from the report Breznyak suffers from a significant mental illness.

The arson charges against Breznyak were class A felonies punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Instead, she was committed to the custody of the state, for an indefinite period of time. She will be held in custody of the state until her treatment progresses enough for mental health workers to believe it would not present a risk to the public, or herself, to be released. That release, and any changes in the conditions of her care, would have to be approved by the court.

Breznyak’s lawyer, Lisa Whittier, said she had explained to her client that in as soon as six months she can petition the court for modified conditions of release during her treatment, or even full discharge from state custody. But that the process usually starts out slowly and privileges, such as being allowed for periods of time out in the community, are generally granted incrementally.

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