By Betty Adams
AUGUSTA — A judge will allow the state to proceed with its criminal case against Eric Bard, a Sidney man accused of raping a 4-year-old girl he was baby-sitting and recording the acts.
Bard, 23, was indicted a year ago in Kennebec County Superior Court on 21 separate charges of gross sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a minor and assault that allegedly took place between Dec. 1, 2011 and April 20, 2012, in Augusta.
Concerns were raised about Bard's mental competency to stand trial on the charges and a series of psychological evaluations were ordered.
Following a four-hour hearing with testimony from two psychologists today, Justice Donald Marden ruled that Bard was competent to enter a plea and to proceed to trial.
Marden also cautioned, "This does not address issues of criminal responsibility or abnormal condition of mind."
Dr. Robert Riley, a clinical neuropsychologist who evaluated Bard's intellectual ability in November at the court's request, said he thought Bard was trying deliberately to score low on an intelligence test he gave at the time.
"If taken at face value, the score is consistent with a significant mental retardation," Riley testified. "I believe that score is not accurate and represents poor effort."
He said a second test result was "consistent with intentionally poor performance."
Riley said Bard "knows he is charged with some bad behavior with regard to a young child" and understands the role of a judge. Riley also said Bard had gained some understanding of probation from talking to other inmates.
Defense attorney Gina Yamartino, however, argued that Bard should be found incompetent to proceed.
"The demands of Eric's legal charges greatly exceed his ability to understand," Yamartino said.
She cited his premature, low-weight birth; immaturity; autistic symptoms; and borderline intelligence. "He's severely delayed, and that severe delay compromises Eric and his ability to work with his attorneys," she said.
The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Fern LaRochelle, urged Marden to rely on Riley's conclusions that Bard was competent to stand trial.
"No one is arguing that the defendant doesn't suffer from some level of impairment," LaRochelle said. "He understands the charges, can cooperate with attorneys and has a rudimentary understanding of legal process."
Dr. Charles Robinson, a clinical psychologist who interviewed Bard on the defense's behalf, testified that Bard's "skills at outputting his understanding are weaker than his skills at taking that information in."
He agreed with Riley that Bard might have been "malingering" when responding to Riley's questions.
Robinson testified that when he asked Bard his understanding of the charges, Bard told him, "They say I touched a kid. I don't know," and that he had taken pictures that were bad.
Robinson said Bard told him, "They were just regular pictures."
The 4-foot-11 Bard rocked forward and back during the entire hearing as he sat on a leather chair at the defense table. He appeared to take little interest in his surroundings or in the testimony, and his face and thick brown mustache were hidden by his long, wavy brown hair.
Bard did not take the stand.
During a recess after the testimony, Bard walked with his attorney up and down the area inside the bar. His ankles were linked by shackles.
He stopped at the back rail and appeared to stare at his mother, who sat alone on the back benches. Later, she held her head in her hands as the judge announced his decision. Bard's mother declined to comment after the hearing.
Marden said he recognized that Bard was under stress and particularly anxious about the criminal charges he faces, but that he should be able, with the assistance of his attorneys, to make decisions that would allow them to present a defense.
Marden said a 2007 evaluation of Bard without the legal stressors — while he was a junior in special education classes at Messalonskee High School — showed that he was able to communicate successfully, sought repetition of some things and used visual cues.
In the next step in the legal process, Bard will be arraigned on the charges and asked to enter a plea.
Betty Adams — 621-5631
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