Judge postpones hearing for Caribou woman charged with arson, murder

1 month ago

CARIBOU, Maine – A hearing to consider motions to exclude evidence in a case involving a Caribou woman charged with arson and murder has been postponed.

Judge Stephen Nelson directed that Wednesday’s hearing to consider motions in limine in Caribou District Court be continued. A motion in limine seeks to exclude evidence or arguments which may be harmful, irrelevant or inadmissible from being presented during a trial.

No new date for a hearing was set.

Susan Kochanowski, 35, was charged with murder and arson after a fire at a Caribou apartment building in early 2023 that resulted in the death of 30-year-old Jason Donahue and displaced 21 residents. Kochanowski lived with Donahue at the time of the fire. 

Kochanowski’s motions include a request for the court to admit alternative evidence, to exclude any statements made to medical providers, and to prevent any references to Donahue as either a “victim,” or “alleged victim.”

She pleaded not guilty during her arraignment last Spring and has since changed this to being not criminally responsible during a February appearance. Judge Nelson approved this request.

After the fire, Kochanowski was hospitalized at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent and subsequently taken to Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor to undergo a court ordered psychiatric evaluation.

She was also ordered by Judge Carrie Linthicum last March to not contact any members of Donahue’s family.

The motion to request alternative evidence states that Kochanowski claimed that a man named Curtis Bliss chased her with a lighter and aerosol on the night of the fire and attempted to light her on fire. She also alleged that Bliss hit her on the head with a frying pan. Kochanowski’s ex-husband Stephen Bonner stated that Bliss does not exist, and that Kochanowski would sometimes refer to Donahue as “Curtis.”

The motion also states that Donahue spoke to Bonner about alleged electrical issues in the building, that a torch style lighter was found next to Donahue’s body along with a dented frying pan, and that Kochanowski reported to Cary Medical Center staff that she had been struck with the pan. 

The motion concludes that Donahue had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit the offense of arson.

Kochanowski had told investigators that she started the fire in a trash can in the Water Street apartment where she and Donahue were living, according to a report by Maine State Police Detective Hunter Cotton.

Kochanowski’s attorneys Ben Everett and Adam Swanson argued last December that this statement was made under extreme duress. Kochanowski jumped out of her window and into a freezing river after the fire and was being treated for both hypothermia and shock when she made the statement about starting the fire.

The motion to dismiss statements to medical providers alleges that any statements made by Kochanowski while hospitalized should be excluded from evidence at trial on the basis of patient-provider privilege. It argues that there is no way a jury could determine whether her statements are reliable.

Kochanowski is clinically disabled and unemployed due to mental health conditions including Bipolar disorder, PTSD, ADHD, and anxiety, according to Swanson. She also suffers from fibromyalgia, which causes chronic muscle pain and fatigue.

And the motion to prevent the State and witnesses from referring to Donahue as a victim alleges that doing so could unfairly add weight to the State’s case against Kochanowski.

Kochanowski was denied bail last December. Judge Nelson dismissed the request, saying that the court found clear and convincing evidence that there is a substantial risk that she would pose danger to another individual or community.

The next event in this case is set for 2:30 p.m., May 22 at Houlton District Court. This event, according to the Caribou District Court, may involve a plea hearing. Kochanowski’s trial is set for June 6.