AUGUSTA, Maine — In February 2021, Troy and Dulsie Varney were brutally stabbed to death in their own bedroom. The person who did it wasn’t a mystery; everyone seemed to know.
But Patrick Maher, a young man who rented an apartment from them, never went to prison because he was found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.
As we've reported before, when a killer or a rapist in Maine is found not criminally responsible, or NCR, they are not sentenced to prison for their crimes, but they are sent to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta for mental health treatment and rehabilitation.
The daughter of Troy and Dulsie sat down with NEWS CENTER Maine and told her story.
"Patrick had been renting from my parents for six months. He had been to the farm a few times to pay his rent. He had always been kind of a different person. Kind of a little odd, quiet, kept to himself," Shelby Varney said.
Shelby was just 19 when her parents were killed in the middle of the night, in their Turner home. She said she knows Patrick Maher is the killer because she caught him midway through the attack. Maher was renting an apartment from Varneys just down the street.
A few days before they were killed, police said he reportedly threatened his own mother and was later found by police walking around school grounds near his apartment.
But police told the Varneys there was nothing they could do.
"Sheriffs escorted him back to the apartment building, and nothing was said of it," Shelby told NEWS CENTER Maine.
Other tenants in the apartment building reported being scared, so the Varney family tried to help.
"My parents were taking some of tenants from the apartment building to our house. I cooked them spaghetti, and we offered them to stay at the farmhouse, and they said, 'No, it's OK.' So my dad helped them put furniture in front of their doors to try to provide some safety for them," Shelby said, remembering that night.
She added that her dad talked to police officers just hours before he and his wife were killed.
"My dad's last words to the police chief, he pointed right at him and said, 'If you're not going to take him tonight and something happens, it's on you.'"
Just a few hours after that conversation, at 1:42 a.m. Feb. 12, 2021, the first 911 call went out.
"I woke up to the sound of my mom screaming a couple times, and then the gun shot," Shelby said.
She and her boyfriend, Kristian, were living in the apartment upstairs, and they jumped out of bed and ran downstairs. At that point, she said, Maher had already stabbed her parents. Shelby said her mom handed her the phone and told her to talk to 911 before losing consciousness. She later found out her mom was bleeding internally while her dad was wrestling Maher to the ground. He also was bleeding out.
"My dad was face down, so he kind of flopped into some of his own blood, and Patrick thought it was hilarious," Shelby explained.
As her dad dropped to the ground, Shelby said Kristian grabbed Maher and held him down until police got there.
Troy and Dulsie were rushed to the hospital. Shelby and Kristian were taken to Turner Fire and Rescue to give statements. That's when Shelby got the news her parents had died.
I asked Shelby what it feels like to know that her parents almost saw this violence coming and nothing was done about it.
"It hurts," she responded.
Maher was arrested and charged with homicide. A year later, there was no trial, just a sentencing. Maher was found not criminally responsible.
When someone is found not criminally responsible, the court proceedings do not end at sentencing. The perpetrator, who is now a patient, is allowed to petition for privileges every six months, which means families like the Varney's end up back in court every six months.
While at Riverview, patients can petition for even more privileges. Patrick Maher was sentenced to Riverview in February 2022. Less than a year after his sentence, he petitioned to spend time outside the Riverview facility.
As of April 1, Maher has been granted permission to venture outside the campus at Riverview, but there are rules. He has to be accompanied by two staff members, and he can't go anywhere farther than 10 miles from the facility. But for the family of Troy and Dulcie Varney, knowing the man who killed them is allowed in public doesn't seem right.
Shelby said that's frustrating. She said she is traumatized from watching her parents be killed and spent months trying to find a therapist who could help her get through this.
"To pay for therapy out of pocket every single week at full price is ridiculous, because our taxpaying dollars pays for every single thing that Patrick has to do. But yet I spent over $5,000, $6,000 on therapy last year just so I can have someone to talk to," she said.
Just a few months ago Maher was considered stable enough by medical providers and a judge to go out into the community. Shelby said that's scary.
"I'm aware that he'll probably never be out on his own completely, but eventually he'll be in a halfway house, under supervision. But he can have a job again, and he can actually go out, and my fear is that is going to approach us a lot quicker than we expected," she said.
According to Maine state law, if a person who is in Riverview wants to change their treatment plan or be released, they must petition for it. The petition is required to have a report from staff at the facility that explains the patient’s condition the new treatment plan and what the expectations of the plan are.
Then the petition goes to court. A judge hears testimony from health care workers. The family, in this case the Varneys, also have a chance to share their concerns. If a mental health professional rules the person is stable enough, the judge almost always allows it.
"The way I kind of view it now is that Patrick is protected like a little delicate egg in the medical professionals' world in mental health and where he has that not criminally responsible label over him it puts him as, he didn't do it basically, and I feel like he's kind of classified as a child in terms of what steps he has to go through at Riverview. But once he's passed all these checkmarks and completed all of his rehabilitation steps, it's a clean slate, and I feel like if you're criminally responsible you wear it the rest of your life," Shelby said.
As you can imagine, things haven’t been easy for Shelby the past few years. Now, she’s tasked with keeping up her family’s farm, while also dealing with the grief of losing her parents.
“Basically, after my parents died, I felt like I took over the responsibility of the farm, and I will do anything I possibly can to try to make my parents proud," she said.
She told me she thinks her mom would be proud of anything she does, and she gets a lot of her work ethic from her parents and her love of farming and being outside from her dad. But at 21-years-old, she’s not just taking care of the farm, she’s expanding it.
"I’m opening a farmstand. I want to sell some soap and candle products. Pork and beef products out of it," she said with a smile on her face.
She and Kristian still live in the apartment upstairs, but Shelby is using the whole house. She is working to get a commercial license for her parents' kitchen so she can make those products.
She said the kitchen has "42 kitchen cabinets, and I got them full of every product you can imagine so it still gets used, it still feels like home. It’s not where every meal gets cooked anymore but it’s still got the home feeling to it,"
The Varneys' farm and farmhouse has been in the family for generations.
"I don’t ever want to sleep downstairs. I like the idea of a bedroom on the second floor for safety reasons. But I would like to get it so the whole house is being used, and we socialize downstairs more," Shelby said thinking of her family home.
And she's trying to make new memories in the last place she saw her parents alive.
"It’s brighter and happier now," she said.
Sen. Jeff Timberlake, who represents Turner, has proposed legislation to try to prevent other crimes like this.
Last legislative session, he proposed LD 1728, which would have implemented a "cooling-off period" for people like Maher whom the community finds dangerous.
"Troy and Dulise were pillars in our community," he wrote in his testimony last year.
That bill did not make it through the Judiciary Committee, but Timberlake isn't stopping there.
"We've got a mental illness crisis going on in the state, and trying to get it dealt with in today's political environment is really difficult," he said.
Timberlake said he's been meeting with mental health groups trying to find a solution, so people like Maher aren't allowed out in the community.
"I'm not trying to deny anybody of any rights, but Troy and Dulsie and their family, they deserve rights, too," he said. "Shelby and her sister are now scared to death because he's going to be out walking on the street."