Trials set in deaths of two Maine prison inmates

Posted March 27, 2012, at 7:14 p.m.
Franklin A. Higgins
Miller Pearsall | BDN
Franklin A. Higgins

ROCKLAND, Maine — Trial dates were determined Tuesday for separate cases involving the deaths of two Maine State Prison inmates.

One case involves 32-year-old John Thibeault of Orono, who was an inmate himself when he was indicted in July 2011 on a charge of manslaughter for “recklessly or with criminal negligence” causing the death of prisoner Sheldon Weinstein in 2009. Thibeault, who has pleaded not guilty, was released from the prison in September 2011 after serving a sentence for robbery and is free on $100,000 surety bail.

The second case involves Franklin Higgins, 49, a convicted murderer accused of fatally beating another convicted killer, Lloyd Millett, in 2011 in the Maine State Prison.

Hearings were held Tuesday in Knox County Superior Court in the separate cases, with Justice Jeffrey Hjelm scheduling the Thibeault case for March 2013 after Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said she has a series of other homicide cases scheduled for the remainder of this year.

Zainea said the defense also expects to hire a DNA expert and a bloodstain expert and once any reports are compiled by those experts she will need time to review those documents.

Weinstein, 64, was serving a sentence for a sexual assault against a child when he died on April 20, 2009, of “blunt force trauma,” according to the state. The beating was inflicted by other inmates, according to Bangor Daily News reports at the time. The indictment states that Thibeault acted recklessly or with criminal negligence which caused Weinstein’s death.

One guard was fired and one demoted as a result of an internal investigation by the prison after the death.

When he died, Weinstein was using a wheelchair after having fallen out of bed and broken a leg. He had been incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham because he was serving a sentence of no more than two years but was transferred to the Maine State Prison in Warren eight days before his death because the medical care at the prison was considered superior.

Weinstein’s wife, Janet, has filed a notice to the state that she intends to sue the Maine Department of Corrections for the death of her husband. The notice was filed in 2009 but no lawsuit has yet been filed.

Defense attorney Philip Cohen of Waldoboro said he had no objection to a 12-month delay in the trial being held. He said the witnesses will be inmates or guards so they easily can be found. Attorney Jeremy Pratt of Camden has been assigned as co-counsel for the defense because of the number of interviews and evidence to be reviewed.

The trial is expected to last a week to 10 days.

In the second inmate death case, Justice Hjelm set a June trial for Higgins.

Higgins was indicted in October on a charge of intentional or knowing murder in the death of fellow inmate Lloyd Millett.

Zainea said the case may be presented to the grand jury for a revised indictment of aggravated attempted murder or that a complaint alleging that crime may be filed. That charge also carries a possible life sentence.

The prosecutor said that an autopsy showed there may have been another contributing cause to the death. Millett, 51, died June 7 at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor after being assaulted May 24 at the prison, according to police at the time.

Higgins remains at the state prison where he is serving a 45-year prison sentence for the 1999 killing of Katherine Poor inside her Kenduskeag home. Millett was in prison for killing two women in 1995 — Terrie Lizotte, 39, of Canton and Rachelle Anne Williams, 33, of Gorham, N.H.

Higgins has pleaded not guilty.

The trial, if held, is expected to last a week.

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