AUBURN — No date has yet been set to release Bryan Wood from the Androscoggin County Jail, a release ordered by a superior court justice Friday who found Wood is incompetent to stand trial on multiple arson charges in connection with a rash of downtown fires last May.
Justice MaryGay Kennedy found Wood, 23, of Lewiston to be incompetent based on his low IQ and inability to fully understand the criminal proceedings against him. And, according to expert forensic psychology testimony, Wood does not “possess the reasoning abilities to make informed decisions related to defending his case.”
This is the second time arson charges against Wood have been dismissed based on court rulings of incompetency. The first time was in 2008 in Cumberland County, when Wood was 18 years old.
At the time, he was sent to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta for treatment before being released; he will return to Riverview for treatment in the more recent case.
On Friday during the competency hearing, a former friend of Wood testified that he told her — based on the 2008 dismissal for lack of competency — that he “could pretty much get away with any crime he pleased.”
In July, Wood and Brian Morin, 30, of Lewiston were each indicted on three counts of arson in connection with fires set at two vacant apartments buildings on Bartlett Street and a third, occupied building on Horton Street on May 6.
Since then, three psychologists who evaluated Wood have each testified that he lacks the necessary reasoning skills to be found competent to stand trial. The experts testified that Wood can grasp simple terms and concepts about the legal process, but not enough to understand a plea offer that involved any degree of complexity.
Wood has repeatedly denied the charges against him and, according to expert testimony, has consistently expressed his desire to “fight” the charges and “tell his side.”
According to Kennedy’s order, he will be released from the county jail and transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services for evaluation, but given evidence that there is no “substantial probability that he will become competent in the foreseeable future,” he can be held under DHHS commitment for no more than a year before the arson charges will be dismissed and he will be released.
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.
According to court testimony, Wood’s IQ was tested between 55 and 57, which places him in the bottom 10 percent of the population. And, although the court found he demonstrates “some level of coherency and the ability to interact,” including living on his own, he is unable to hold a job and relies on SSI/SSDI and his mother for financial support.