November 18, 2019

Details emerge in brutal attack > Priest says Bechard was looking for him before beating nuns

AUGUSTA — Gruesome details of Saturday’s vicious assault at a Waterville convent were revealed Monday while a District Court judge ruled that the accused attacker’s mental state was so fragile that court proceedings would be held privately at Kennebec County Jail.

Early in the afternoon, 37-year-old Mark Bechard of Waterville was led into a jail conference room, restrained by a strap around his waist. He made little to no eye contact with court officials, said prosecutor Eric Wright.

Bechard is accused of brutally murdering two sisters of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament in Waterville, and seriously injuring two others, during a crime spree labeled as one of the worst in the city’s history.

Bechard is expected to undergo a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is competent to stand trial. Meanwhile he will be held without bail, but most likely will be transported to Augusta Mental Health Institute.

Later Monday afternoon in Waterville, the surviving nuns took their first Communion since violence invaded their sanctuary.

Father Maurice Morin, who performed Monday’s Mass at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel on Silver Street, said Bechard was looking for him when he began his rampage at the convent.

Morin said Bechard, who has a lengthy history of mental problems, became angry when he was told the father was unavailable. The sisters attempted to stop Bechard as he tried to force his way into the office.

“That’s when he began attacking the sisters,” Father Morin said.

Morin said Bechard was seeking him out, “apparently because he was feeling poorly.”

The rampage that followed was swift and bloody.

Waterville police arrived at the convent just minutes after receiving a 911 call at 6 p.m.

Officers Arthur Bourget and Lincoln Ryder found glass broken from a doorway and an elderly woman with severe facial wounds lying in a pool of blood in the bathroom.

A short distance away, they found two more nuns lying on the floor in a hallway near the kitchen. One of them, Sister Mary Anna DiGiacomo, had a white-handled knife sticking out of her face. The other nun also had severe facial injuries.

As the officers watched, Sister DiGiacomo, 72, removed the knife from her own face. On Monday, Sister DiGiacomo was listed in serious condition at Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

Police then heard a woman crying in the chapel.

“As they approached the chapel, they saw a smashed religious statue on the floor. The officers then entered the chapel area and saw … Mark Alan Bechard … standing over a nun with a statue of the Blessed Mary in his hand. The nun, whimpering and crouched in the corner of a pew, had her hands over her face trying to defend herself from her attacker,” the affidavit stated.

Bechard, covered in blood, stopped his attack and put his hands in the air when the officers confronted him.

The nun attacked in the chapel was identified as 68-year-old Sister Patricia Keane who officers reported had been beaten on her back with a metal cane until the cane broke.

Sister Rose Anna told the officers that she had seen Bechard stomping on the faces of the other nuns.

Sister Edna Mary Cardoza and Sister Marie Julien Fortin later died of their injuries.

On Monday, Sister Keane was in stable condition at Mid-Maine Medical Center in Waterville.

In a very unusual move, Bechard’s attorney, Michaela Murphy of Waterville, requested that the District Court hearing be held at the jail Monday, rather than at the courthouse.

The move, which the court approved, eliminated the media from viewing the public proceeding.

“I’m not as concerned with the First Amendment (freedom of the press) as I am with his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial,” Murphy said during a press conference outside the courthouse.

After the judge, the prosecutor, Murphy and a court reporter returned from the jail, the judge went on record in the courtroom and told the press what had occurred during the proceeding.

Murphy said she made the request because Bechard seemed to get confused when around large groups of people.

She said she felt the amount of media attending the proceeding would have affected her client’s ability to comprehend the situation.

Dozens of photographers and reporters from Maine and New England gathered outside the courthouse, and later outside the Silver Street convent in Waterville.

As people entered the chapel for Mass Monday afternoon, they did so beneath the bright lights of cameras.

Satellite trucks lined the street in front of the chapel, as Morin spoke of forgiveness and understanding.

He reminded those present that Sisters Cardoza and Fortin were “in the eternal chapel praying face to face with God himself.”

The surviving nuns sat at the front of the church dressed in white habits and lined up for Communion.

After the Mass, several of the 40 or so people who attended spoke to the nuns. Though some of the nuns were visibly shaken, others seemed more determined to console members of the laity.

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