ROCKLAND, Maine — A Knox County jury found 50-year-old Franklin Higgins not guilty Friday afternoon in connection with the death of a fellow prisoner nearly two years ago.
The jury deliberated for about an hour before acquitting Higgins of aggravated attempted murder.
Defense attorney Philip Cohen said his client was pleased with the verdict.
Cohen also said that while he has been somewhat familiar with what goes on within the prison, this case surprised him at how the culture of violence is accepted by the prison.
“It’s not too far off from what you see in the movies,” he said.
Higgins, who faced life in prison if convicted, is serving a 45-year prison term for the Feb. 27, 1999, murder of 40-year-old Katherine Poor of Kenduskeag. He will not be eligible for release until he is about 75 years old.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said in her opening statements Monday that some might say the state was wasting time and money by trying people who were already in prison, but that it was important that the law apply equally to society at large and within the walls of the prison.
The prosecution and defense wrapped up their cases Friday. The trial began Monday and took a day off Tuesday due to a snowstorm.
Higgins was charged with aggravated attempted murder in connection with the death of Lloyd Millett. Higgins’ attorney claims that on May 24, 2011, his client struck Millett with a pipe clamp in self defense after Millett lunged at him in the prison workshop following two months of threats and an assault. Millett died at the hospital two weeks later.
Higgins initially had been indicted on a murder charge, but the charge was reduced after an autopsy revealed that heart disease was a contributing cause of Millett’s death.
The state has argued that Higgins beat Millett with a 29-inch long pipe clamp as retribution for Millett having punched Higgins a day earlier.
“This was for revenge. He wanted his pound of flesh for what happened the day before. This is vigilante justice,” Zainea said in her closing arguments.
She argued that Higgins had no right to use deadly force in the altercation because Millet had no weapons in his hand.
“By law you are not allowed to bring a pipe clamp to a fistfight,” Zainea said.
She said it was clear that Millett was a bully but that did not give Higgins the right to beat him with the pipe clamp. She said blood stain evidence indicates that Higgins struck Millett again after he had fallen to the floor.
Defense attorney Philip Cohen chided the prosecution for referring to Millett as a bully.
“A bully is a kid on the playground who wants to be first in line. Lloyd Millett raped and murdered two women,” Cohen said.
Cohen said Millett was part of a gang that extorted money from prisoners and that other inmates and staff feared the gang members.
The defense attorney said the gang was running the prison.
Cohen also attacked the credibility of two other prisoners who testified for the state earlier in the week that they saw Higgins strike Millett without provocation.
Cohen said one sought and received a transfer out of state while the other hopes to get transferred for his testimony this week.
The defense compared the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict someone of a crime as nearly filling a barrel. He said the state had not come close to filling the barrel but instead had these two prisoners who were the bottom of the barrel.
On Friday, the lead Maine State Police detective in the case, Abbe Chabot, acknowledged that one of the prisoners — Wilson Arroyo, who was serving a sentence for burglary — had taken a polygraph test. Under cross examination by the defense attorney, Chabot said that Arroyo had been asked by the examiner only three questions which centered on whether Arroyo had assaulted Millett. The examination was deemed to be inconclusive.
Also testifying Friday was a former Maine State Prison nurse who said that Millett had said to her that he had killed two other women and a third would not be a problem. He made this comment after she refused to provide him with some information he had requested. The nurse said after Millett got out of the segregation unit for having made the threat, she heard that he had commented to other prisoners that he was going to get her.
Higgins, whose testimony stretched from Thursday afternoon into Friday morning, said that Millett threatened, harassed and assaulted him in the two months leading up to May 24 and that he feared for his life.