Tuesday, March 11, 2014
AUGUSTA -- Two women found not criminally responsible for attacks on their daughters -- one of them fatal -- were discharged this week from state supervision.
Maria Austin, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1997 beating death of her 4-year-old daughter in their Farmingdale home, had been working toward a full discharge for the past few years, as had Paula Tarbox, who was placed in the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health & Human Services six months after the July 2004 stabbing her of sleeping 11-year-old daughter in Portland.
Both discharges were approved by Justice Donald Marden at the close of separate hearings in Kennebec County Superior Court. The discharges, recommended by Riverview Psychiatric Center staff and the State Forensic Service, earned each woman a round of applause initiated by the judge.
Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, who represents the state at many hearings involving people committed to Riverview Psychiatric Center after they are found not criminally responsible for murder, talked in court about the rarity of back-to-back discharges.
"It's not often I can stand before you and support the discharge of someone who caused the death of another human being," Stokes said on Friday.
Stokes told Marden that he had been in court for Austin's case many times over the years.
"She is a remarkable story of recovery," Stokes said.
Marden agreed, telling Austin that she was fortunate. "You've found people in the community who are supportive and understanding," he said.
As she left the courtroom, the dark-haired Austin, wearing a blue two-piece suit, smiled and exchanged waves and then hugs with her caregivers.
Two years ago, Austin won privileges to be out of state for up to two weeks at a time. At that time, her attorney, Harold Hainke, told the court she had bought a home and drove herself to and from work without any problem.
On Friday, Hainke questioned Dr. Teresa Mayo, clinical psychologist with the Riverview Assertive Community Treatment team, who has known Austin for 12 years and is her case manager.
"Maria Austin has been very stable in her recovery," Mayo said. Mayo described Austin's activities with her church, her friends and her sister, and her volunteer activities.
Mayo as well as other psychologists who have treated or evaluated Austin over the years, testified that the community would be safe if Austin were discharged from state supervision.
"Maria has done absolutely everything we asked her to do in her recovery," Mayo said. "She is extremely remorseful about the death of her daughter and deals with that on a daily basis. She is very aware of her mental illness and takes medication on a daily basis."
Mayo said medical care, medication and case management for Austin, now 48, will be picked up by VA Maine Healthcare Systems at Togus. Austin, who served four years in the Air Force and was diagnosed with schizophrenia prior to her discharge, receives full disability benefits.
Dr. Mitchell Manin, a psychiatrist at Riverview, said Austin is self-motivated to take her medication to ensure that no similar episode occurs.
Dr. Ann LeBlanc, director of the State Forensic Service, which evaluates people on behalf of the court, said Austin was acutely psychotic when she was admitted to the hospital in 1988, suffering from delusions that she was receiving messages through imagined brain implants and that parasites were crawling under her skin.
"Her mental deterioration led to her killing her daughter," LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said Austin's recovery has taken a long time and progressed steadily.
"She started this all out with a mother's heart that was broken," LeBlanc said, adding that Austin's commitment to serve others in the community is part of her atonement for what she did.
Tarbox, 47, testified Thursday in the same courtroom that she has worked hard to rebuild a relationship with her children.
The petite, reddish-haired woman said she speaks daily with her older daughter, now age 23, and updates her on her plans and activities. She's signed releases to allow her therapists to discuss her condition "so my children will know I'm doing well. I've been doing nothing but trying to rebuild with them."
Tarbox said she put a lot of things in place so she can continue to make progress and her children will know they're secure.
"You're an optimist," the judge told her. "You brought your purse with you. You are now discharged."
Dr. Debra Baeder, chief forensic psychologist at the State Forensic Service, testified that Tarbox has had "an uninterrupted recovery" since entering the hospital in 2005 and recognized the effects her illness had on the family.
"She's done very, very well throughout the forensic process," Baeder said. "She is in remission with treatment."
Baeder said when the stabbing occurred, Tarbox held a "voodoo-like belief that rose to a psychotic threshold."
Betty Adams -- 621-5631