Inmates testified they witnessed fatal assault, had remained silent

Franklin Higgins (right) listens Monday morning as his attorney Philip Cohen offers opening statements to the jury in Knox County Superior Court in Rockland. Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt is seated with Higgins.
Franklin Higgins (right) listens Monday morning as his attorney Philip Cohen offers opening statements to the jury in Knox County Superior Court in Rockland. Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt is seated with Higgins.
Posted March 20, 2013, at 2:46 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2013, at 7:29 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — One current and one former Maine State Prison inmate said they witnessed Franklin Higgins, who is on trial for attempted murder, swing at fellow prisoner Lloyd Millett in the prison’s wood shop and then saw Millett fall to the floor.

Both former inmate Wilson Arroyo and current prisoner Christopher Mull also admitted on the stand that they did not share that information with police when interviewed the day after the incident on May 24, 2011. Arroyo said he didn’t want to say what he saw until he received assurances that he would be transferred to another prison, preferably in Massachusetts; and Mull said he is still hoping his testimony will get him transferred to a prison in New Jersey.

Both men testified Wednesday during the second day of the trial against Higgins, who is charged with aggravated attempted murder in connection with the May 2011 attack on Millett. Millett died two weeks later at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. The trial started Monday in Knox County Superior Court, but did not resume until Wednesday because of Tuesday’s snowstorm.

The defense has argued that Higgins struck Millett in self defense.

Arroyo, who is serving a sentence for burglary, testified that he was working in the woodshop when he saw Higgins standing next to Millett and then swing something that might have been a pipe clamp. Millett then stood there for a second or two and fell to the floor.

Arroyo acknowledged he initially told investigators within the prison and later Maine State Police Detective Abbe Chabot that he had not seen any assault. He did not say anything more until Chabot met with him again on Aug. 31, 2011.

At that time, Arroyo said he would testify about what he saw if he was given assurances that he would be moved out of the Maine State Prison and preferably to Massachusetts. He said he was transferred to the Maine Correctional Center in Windham immediately after he testified before the Knox County Grand Jury in October 2011, although he said he did not know he was being transferred until after he testified.

Arroyo said he feared for his life and did not want to testify previously because of his fear of a gang that had been led by Millett and another prisoner, Brad Chesnel. He said Chesnel, who the defense unsuccessfully tried to offer to jurors as an alternate suspect in the beating death, and Millett had beaten him prior to the May 2011 incident.

“I’m going deaf in my left ear because of it,” Arroyo said about the beating he said he took at the hands of Millett and Chesnel.

He said Chesnel also sent people to his cell to threaten him. He said Chesnel had told him that he or his people could get to Arroyo anywhere in the state prison system.

Arroyo said after the death of Millett, he received threats from other prisoners who were soldiers of Chesnel, warning him not to talk.

Arroyo acknowledged on Wednesday that he had offered different versions of what happened in interviews on the day after the incident, in an interview on Aug. 31, and in testimony to the grand jury.

He testified Wednesday that after he witnessed Higgins striking Millett, Higgins simply walked away. He said he did not see Millett threaten Higgins prior to the incident.

Arroyo said he immediately went over to where Chesnel was working in the workshop and told him what happened. He said Chesnel warned him not to say that he had spoken to Chesnel.

The industry area is about the size of two football fields and had about 85 prisoners and two guards in it at the time. Arroyo said a prison guard walked by shortly after the attack and found Millett on the floor.

Mull testified later on Wednesday that he had seen Higgins standing at the entrance to Millett’s cell on the evening before the May 24 incident. At one point, Higgins’ head snapped back as if he had been struck by Millett, Mull said.

Mull said he then heard there would be trouble and observed Millett’s work station in the woodshop the following day. He said because he was watching Millett, who was located on the opposite side of the large room, he witnessed Higgins come up and strike Millett with the pipe clamp.

Mull said he did not see anything else other than Higgins walking away after appearing to have been bending over Millett. Mull said he could not see Millett after the prisoner was struck.

Mull is serving a sentence for murder in New Jersey and had been transferred to the Maine State Prison before the May 2011 incident.

Mull acknowledged that he has been in administrative segregation since July 2012 for his own protection. He said he owed some people money for suboxone and compact discs. The prisoner said the original debt was $400 but that the price increases the longer it is not paid.

After Mull was placed in segregation — where inmates are locked in individual cells for 23 hours per day — he wrote a letter to the prison investigator saying he had information about the Higgins case. He said he hoped that his testifying would allow him to be sent back to New Jersey.

Mull said no one promised him he would be transferred, but that he knows that other inmates who have testified in other cases have received such a benefit.

Mull said he was aware that Millett and Chesnel had been trying to extort money from Higgins.

Mull also said that the gang uses intimidation to get other prisoners to relocate from their cells so that their members can get the cells they want.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea told Justice Joyce Wheeler that she expects the prosecution will complete its case Thursday. Defense attorney Philip Cohen said he expects the defense will be done by noon on Friday.

Millett, 51, was serving a life sentence for murdering two young women in Maine in 1995.

Chesnel is serving a life sentence for beating a man to death in a 1997 robbery at a Lewiston motel.

Higgins is serving a 45-year prison sentence for the 1999 killing of Katherine Poor inside her Kenduskeag home.

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