ROCKLAND – The woman accused of packing a loaded .40-caliber pistol in a plot to free her murderer husband from the Maine State Prison entered no plea Thursday to charges of aiding escape and trying to sneak a weapon inside the maximum-security facility in Warren.
Dressed in a jail suit during a hearing in Knox County Superior Court, Susan Watland, 47, of Jackson cast her brown eyes downward, biting her bottom lip, as the circumstances of the case against her were laid out.
She was arrested Tuesday in the parking lot of the prison after authorities had concluded that she would try to enter the prison lobby, take hostages and free her husband.
An informant tipped off prison officials. That resulted in Watland’s husband, Gary Watland, 44, being closely monitored at the prison, including having his telephone conversations tapped.
He began serving a 25-year sentence there in April 2005, for shooting and killing acquaintance Wayne Crowley, 32, after a night of drinking in Somerset County on Oct. 25, 2004.
Four telephone calls between the couple on Oct. 21 and 22 contained coded information that led prison officials to believe an armed escape was planned. Officials expected the escape attempt to occur Thursday, until Susan Watland changed her scheduled visit to Tuesday.
Watland is charged with aiding escape, a Class B felony, and trafficking in prison contraband, a firearm, which is a Class C felony.
After her arrest, some $800 in cash was found in her car, along with beer and unknown drugs.
District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said the drugs may have been legally prescribed. The .40-caliber Beretta handgun, its safety off, was found along with 10 rounds of ammunition.
During Thursday’s court appearance, Justice Donald Marden informed Watland that the aiding-escape charge carries punishment of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000, and the trafficking charge carries punishment of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Because the charges are felonies, Watland could choose either not to enter a plea and wait for a grand jury indictment or skip the grand jury process and agree to be charged, he said.
Outside the courtroom, Rushlau said it is “very uncommon” to bypass the grand jury, “but it can happen.”
On Tuesday, prison and law enforcement personnel scrambled to obtain a search warrant and thwart her plan.
When defense attorney Steven Peterson of Rockport told the judge the only apparent criminal history Susan Watland has is a misdemeanor conviction for smuggling tobacco into a jail, she briefly rolled her eyes.
In December 2004, while her husband was being held at Somerset County Jail in Skowhegan, awaiting trial on the murder charge, she slipped him some tobacco during a visit. She was sentenced to 14 days in jail.
The judge Thursday set bail at $50,000 cash or $200,000 surety, despite Peterson arguing for only $5,000. The original bail was $20,000, but Rushlau argued it should be higher “because of an extraordinarily high flight risk.”
She has “limited ties to the state of Maine,” he said, telling the judge that information indicated she had been “liquidating assets” by selling items to get cash.
She “has no ability to make $20,000 bail,” Peterson argued, telling the judge Watland is on Social Security disability with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
She has a bachelor’s degree in public health, and has worked for the California Department of Human Services, Peterson said. He said she also is licensed for physical therapy and massage.
Watland has an elderly mother living in New Hampshire, he said, and a sister who primarily lives in Maine.
Watland’s bail conditions include no direct or indirect contact with Gary Watland, no use or possession or alcohol or illegal drugs, and to submit to random search and testing for substances.
She is prohibited from being on the premises at Maine State Prison or Bolduc Correctional Facility, which is near the state prison.