I was four months pregnant with my first child in 1993 when I stood outside Tonia Porter Kigas’ Bangor apartment as police put up crime scene tape and began to process a crime scene that we would soon learn to be one of the most horrific in the city’s history.
Only hours before, a Bangor police dispatcher had answered a 911 call, made from a phonebooth.
It was Tonia Porter Kigas.
“Is this the number you call when you know where a dead body is?” she asked.
She requested that someone remove the body of her 5-year-old daughter, Tavielle Kigas, whom she had starved to death during the past month. She told the dispatcher she would hang up the phone and return to her apartment to wait for police to remove her daughter’s body.
My daughter was two years old when the trial began in 1995.
One day, we all watched a video of Porter Kigas, who is now known as Tonia Porter, which was recorded just hours after her arrest. She talked of how evil Tavielle was, how she had no respect for God and why it was necessary not only to kill her, but to starve her to death.
She mimicked the noises her daughter made in the final days before she died and complained that the noises prevented her from getting a decent night’s sleep.
During that day’s lunch recess, I picked up my daughter from the babysitter’s home, took her to a local takeout stand and chatted with her while she dipped french fries into a bowl of strawberry ice cream.
Until my last breath, the details and images from that trial will be with me.
Porter, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and therefore not criminally responsible for her conduct.
Last week, she was formally discharged from the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services — 19 years after she arrived at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta.
While the judge’s decision to discharge her is an important one, the effect on Porter’s daily life is likely to be negligible. According to court testimony, she has been living very much on her own for several years. She has her own apartment, a job and volunteers in the community. She needs only check in with the state once a month.
Porter’s case highlights the reason and worth of “not criminally responsible” findings.
The level of her illness at the time was such that a judge deemed her legally insane. It has taken nearly two decades of treatment and painstakingly slow graduated privileges for her medical providers, a judge and even the office of the Attorney General that prosecuted her to concur that she is well and serves as no threat to herself or to others.
Dr. Ann LeBlanc, director of the State Forensic Service, has told the court at previous hearings that Porter lives each day with the knowledge of what she did.
Porter has recently been diagnosed and treated for cancer, which she has handled with “great dignity,” Leblanc said at the most recent hearing.
Deputy Attorney General William Stokes prosecuted Porter back in 1995. Up until recently he has attended most every hearing in which she sought additional privileges.
“Over the years you could most certainly see a remarkable change in her,” he said. “Her treatment, her medications, at some point everything seemed to line up properly. You know the hard part in these cases is the patient has to learn to live with this very difficult knowledge of what they did and of course what happened to Tavielle was horrific and she is very well aware of what she did. That’s not an easy thing for anyone,” he said.
At the time the judge issued her finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, Porter became a patient, not a prisoner. Her providers focused on two things, treating her successfully and protecting the public.
The judge’s verdict all of those years ago sparked a great deal of outrage from those who felt Porter deserved nothing less than life in prison.
I assume those same people are equally angry that she has been released from state care.
I will argue that the anger is misplaced.
For the last 20 years Porter has been getting proper treatment for her condition. She has received help and she is better — healthy — able to care for herself and no longer a danger to those around her.
The outrage should be about the number of seriously mentally ill individuals who are not receiving any help. The effects of untreated mental illness are devastating for the person who is ill, their family members and communities.
There are families across the state who live in fear of their own loved ones who suffer from serious and sometimes violent forms of mental diseases. Often as the disease progresses the person who is ill is less inclined to seek treatment and family members have little ability to intervene.
Tavielle was a victim of an untreated mental disease.
While her mother’s condition has improved over all of this time, our ability to ensure proper treatment to others like her has not.
That is a tragedy.
You can reach Renee Ordway at email@example.com.