Musician Was Overcome By Mental Illness, Alcohol Abuse, Friend Says
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ Mark Bechard was once an accomplished musician who played trumpet professionally in a jazz combo.
``He was part of one of the few jazz combos that actually made a living in Maine,″ said Don Stratton, a music professor at the University of Maine. ``You can’t say that for a lot of people.″
That was before his descent into madness.
Bechard is accused of killing two nuns and injuring two others in a bloody rampage Saturday night at the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament convent in Waterville, about 100 miles northeast of Portland.
A police affidavit described a macabre scene of beatings, stabbings and mayhem in the home of nine elderly nuns, where Bechard occasionally worshipped and had recently been turned down for a job as a handyman. His clothes and hands were covered in blood when he was arrested.
His arms restrained, Bechard said few words Monday as a judge conducted a rare jailhouse arraignment in Augusta, about 60 miles from here.
District Judge Kirk Studstrup moved the arraignment to the jail, where only court officials and lawyers could attend, because he was concerned reporters would distract Bechard in the courtroom.
Bechard, 37, did not enter a plea on two counts each of murder and attempted murder. He is to undergo mental competency examinations at the state psychiatric hospital in Augusta, where he had been treated in the past.
Police said Bechard was coherent when they questioned him. He did not know how many nuns had died and asked about their condition.
``I’m sorry,″ Bechard was quoted as telling police. ``You know what I did? I murdered three nuns.″
Bechard grew up in Waterville, where his parents still live. He graduated from Waterville High School in 1976 with a passion for the trumpet that he kept through his bouts with mental illness.
Bechard continued playing the trumpet and studied at the university in Augusta after his graduation. He even played professionally in the jazz combo, Joy Spring.
His life was undergoing drastic changes by his late 20s, said free-lance writer Gini Cost, who met him when they were both in the psychiatric unit of the Mid-Maine Medical Center in Augusta.
Cost said that Bechard suffered from manic depressive illness and his tendency to abuse alcohol increased his instability.
He was OK when he took his medication, but dangerous when he skipped the medicine or abused alcohol, she said.
``When he stabilizes, he’s going to be horrified at what he did,″ she said Monday.
Bechard had been in and out of the Augusta Mental Health Institute for perhaps a decade, Cost said. He lived in a group home for a while but had moved into an apartment by himself by Saturday night, when he walked about a mile to the convent.
Authorities say he smashed into the convent and beat and stabbed four nuns.
Mother Superior Edna Mary Cardozo, 68, and Sister Mary Julien Fortin, 67, died of blows to the head. Sister Mary Anna DiGiacomo, 72, was stabbed in the face and remained hospitalized in serious condition Tuesday.
The fourth nun, Sister Patricia Keane, 68, was in good condition. She had been beaten in the head with a cane until it broke, the affidavit said. Bechard was striking her in the face with a statue of the Virgin Mary when police entered.
Citing confidentiality concerns, state officials refused to give any details of Bechard’s case or even to confirm that he had been hospitalized under state care.
Bechard’s parents refused to talk about the case.
``All I can say to you is we’re very sorry, and there’s nothing more we can say,″ his mother, Diane Bechard, said in a brief phone interview from her home.