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Judge Finds Bechard Not Criminally Responsible In Slaying of Nuns

October 17, 1996

SKOWHEGAN, Maine (AP) _ A man who killed two nuns and attacked two others with a statue of the Virgin Mary will probably spend the rest of his life in a mental institution instead of prison.

Superior Court Justice Donald Alexander decided Wednesday that 38-year-old Mark Bechard was insane and not criminally responsible for the Jan. 27 attacks in a convent. He committed Bechard to psychiatric care indefinitely.

Bechard’s mother, Diane Bechard, sobbed as she heard the verdict, while Sister Patricia Keane, a nun who survived the attack, called the decision wise.

Keane, whom Bechard bludgeoned with her metal cane and beat in the face with a statue of the Virgin Mary, said she ``will continue to pray for Mark and his family, for all those who are mentally ill and who need help.″

``And this is the important thing, that they get the help that they need,″ she said.

The defense in the nonjury trial never disputed that Bechard stabbed, stomped and beat the nuns at the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament convent and chapel in Waterville, but argued he was schizophrenic and delusional and didn’t understand the ``wrongfulness of his conduct.″

In closing arguments, defense lawyer Michaela Murphy said Bechard ``is severely ill, he came into this world biologically cursed, he starts off with ... one of the most serious mental illnesses known to mankind.″

If the former jazz trumpeter is ever deemed sane, he could be released with a judge’s approval. Murphy said that was not likely to happen.

Bechard has been in and out of mental institutions most of his adult life, 25 times since 1984. In his ruling, Alexander described Bechard as ``a person who’s on the most severe end″ of mental illness.

``His own witnesses said that this disease is for him as debilitating and permanent as cancer or AIDS,″ assistant Attorney General Eric Wright said. ``Now, if that’s true, then you’re dealing with somebody who can never be cured.″

Wright, however, said Bechard attacked the nuns out of frustration after going to their convent to resolve his fears of being ``debaptized″ by the Catholic Church. He said the assault had more to do with Bechard’s violent history than mental illness.

``The truth is this defendant goes off when he doesn’t get his way and that’s what happened here,″ Wright said.

Bechard broke into the Waterville convent, where he had recently been turned down for a job as a handyman, on a cold, rainy night just after the nuns had finished a prayer service.

Using a knife and one of the nun’s metal canes, police say, Bechard beat, stabbed and stomped three of the nuns. And when officers arrived they had to pull him off of one nun he was beating with the Virgin Mary statue.

Mother Superior Edna Mary Cardozo, 68, and Sister Marie Julien Fortin, 67, died of head injuries.

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