Doctors say Lewiston arson suspect not competent to stand trial

Bryan Wood
Androscoggin County Jail
Bryan Wood
By Tony Reaves, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 02, 2013, at 7:54 a.m.

AUBURN, Maine — Three psychologists who evaluated a Lewiston man said in court Thursday he appeared to lack the necessary reasoning skills to be found competent to stand trial.

Bryan Wood, 23, is charged with three counts of arson in a downtown Lewiston fire that destroyed three apartment buildings on May 6.

A judge took the case under advisement after the daylong hearing that included testimony from police, a fire investigator, Wood’s former friends, his mother and the psychologists who examined the defendant.

Prosecutors are seeking to show Wood is competent to stand trial along with co-defendant, Brian Morin, 30, a transient. Wood’s attorney, Steven Carey, argued in opposition.

In a videotaped interview with an investigator from the Office of the State Fire Marshal that was played Thursday in Androscoggin County Superior Court Law Library, the setting of the daylong hearing, Wood denied setting the fire.

Ann LeBlanc, director of State Forensic Services, said she had met with Wood several times.

He has the ability to grasp simple terms and concepts about the legal process, she said, but concluded that he wouldn’t be able to understand a plea offer that involved any degree of complexity, that included multiple factors to consider.

“He’s not good at keeping more than one or two pieces in mind at the same time,” she said.

She also said it was unlikely that he would be able to improve enough through therapy and medication to achieve a level of understanding and reasoning that would make him competent.

His understanding of the legal process and its terms is “erratic and shallow,” she said. “I think he’s very impaired.”

LeBlanc said Wood didn’t understand that Thursday’s hearing was a competency hearing. He thought he would have an opportunity to tell the judge that he is innocent, she said.

When Wood was 4 years old, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental retardation, now called intellectual disability disorder, making him eligible for special education services.

When he was 18 years old, Wood was found incompetent to stand trial on an arson charge. He was ordered into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services and sent to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta for treatment before being released.

Two tests have shown his IQ to be 57 and 55, well below the 100 average IQ score. LeBlanc said that shows Wood scored higher than one-tenth of 1 percent of the population.

She told Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis that some defendants defined as intellectually disabled are found competent to stand trial while others, who may have higher IQs, are not.

LeBlanc said Wood is easily influenced by information, depending on where it’s coming from, and is apt to change his mind easily from one minute to the next.

Carey, Wood’s attorney, asked LeBlanc whether his client would be able to understand and assist in his defense in a multiple arson case that involved hundreds of pages of discovery and more than 20 videos.

“No, he wouldn’t be able to remember it,” she said. He also wouldn’t be able to apply it to his own situation and consider the pros and cons of each piece of information, she said.

Asked what the prospects for restoration of competency are, LeBlanc said: “I think it would be very unlikely that Mr. Wood’s intellectual ability could be changed significantly enough.”

There’s no medication or talk therapy available that would improve his reasoning capability enough to render him competent.

In March, Kerry Drach, a psychologist from Portland, evaluated Wood in connection with a different crime. In a report to the court, Drach concluded that Wood’s difficulties in reasoning impaired his ability to assist in his own defense.

Drach found that Wood was “severely challenged” in the area of reasoning, something that can’t be changed through medication or therapy.

Andrew Wisch, a psychologist from Rockland, had examined Wood in 2009 and again in 2011. Wisch called Wood’s abstract reasoning ability “extremely rudimentary.”

A witness called by prosecutors testified Thursday that Wood had told her that he “could get away with pretty much any crime he pleased” because he had been found incompetent to stand trial.

A former friend testified earlier Thursday that he bought food stamps from Wood, who used that money to buy illegal drugs. The witness, Anthony Woods, also said he believed Wood sold free boxed food and used the proceeds for drugs.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/08/02/news/doctors-say-lewiston-arson-suspect-not-competent-to-stand-trial/ printed on July 23, 2014