Judge rejects alternative suspect defense in inmate’s murder case

Posted March 14, 2013, at 2:36 p.m.
Franklin A. Higgins
Miller Pearsall | BDN
Franklin A. Higgins Buy Photo

ROCKLAND, Maine — A Superior Court judge has ruled that the defense in next week’s trial of Maine State Prison inmate Franklin Higgins cannot present evidence that another prisoner may have caused the death of a fellow inmate.

Justice Joyce Wheeler ruled Thursday that the testimony provided at a hearing Tuesday in Knox County Superior Court did not rise to the standard necessary for an alternate suspect defense to be presented to the jury.

Wheeler said statements made by prisoners during the hearing were highly unreliable.

“At most what we have is prison gossip,” Justice Wheeler ruled in her order.

Higgins will go on trial beginning Monday for his alleged role in the beating death of prisoner Lloyd Millett nearly two years ago. Higgins is charged with aggravated attempted murder.

The attorney general’s office had challenged the defense’s plan to argue that another inmate heard prisoner Brad Chesnel admit to beating Millett. Chesnel is serving a life sentence for beating a man to death in a 1997 robbery at a Lewiston motel.

Chesnel did not answer questions at Tuesday’s hearing on the advice of his attorney.

But defense attorney Jeremy Pratt argued that prisoner Jeffrey A. Cookson had told a private investigator hired by Pratt that Chesnel told Cookson he had attacked Millett.

Pratt also had another inmate testify Tuesday that Cookson told him the same thing.

But when Cookson was put on the witness stand, he denied telling anyone that he had heard Chesnel admit to assaulting Millett.

Millett died at the hospital a little more than a week after he was assaulted with a pipe clamp while working in the industry section of the Maine State Prison in May 2011. The industry area is the size of about two football fields and was occupied by about 50 prisoners, two guards and one video camera. The prosecution has pointed out that Higgins was seen on camera carrying a pipe clamp while walking toward the wood shop area where Millett was working. Higgins was then seen walking away from that area without the tool.

The defense, however, pointed out that the camera only shows one hallway in the industry section of the prison.

The defense also argued that Millett extorted other prisoners using force. One prisoner testified Tuesday that Millett was part of a prison gang known as the Heavy Hitters.

Higgins’ trial is expected to start Monday.

The witness lists for the defense and prosecution include many prisoners, some of whom are serving sentences for murder.

Higgins is serving a 45-year prison sentence for the 1999 killing of Katherine Poor inside her Kenduskeag home. A Penobscot County jury convicted Higgins in January 2001 of Poor’s murder.

Millett, a Rumford native, was serving a life sentence for killing Terrie Lizotte, 39, of Canton and Rachelle Anne Williams, 33, of Gorham, N.H. The women were killed during a weekend in early November 1995 while Millett was a farmhand in Turner.

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