Judge: Brewer man charged in prison death will be held without bail — if he’s found

Posted Sept. 05, 2013, at 11:38 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 05, 2013, at 5:41 p.m.
John Thibeault
Contributed
John Thibeault
Sheldon Weinstein, 64, an inmate and homicide victim at the Maine State Prison in April 2009.
Courtesy of Maine Department of Public Safety
Sheldon Weinstein, 64, an inmate and homicide victim at the Maine State Prison in April 2009.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A state judge has ordered that when police track down a Brewer area man, who is charged with manslaughter in the 2009 beating death of a Maine State Prison inmate, he be held without bail.

The defendant, 34-year-old John E. Thibeault, failed to appear Thursday morning in Knox County Superior Court for a scheduled hearing on motions concerning his upcoming trial. But defense attorney Jeremy Pratt said he had his client’s permission to proceed in his absence.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea objected to the hearing continuing, however, until Thibeault could be arrested. She said an arrest warrant was issued for Thibeault on May 1 after the person who had put up $100,000 in property for his bail withdrew permission to use the property as bail.

Zainea said police have checked the Brewer address Thibeault gave officials when he was freed on bail two years ago after being charged with manslaughter, but that he was not living there anymore. The prosecutor said other addresses linked to Thibeault in Bangor and Brewer also have been checked with no success. Bar Harbor police also checked that community because the state had information that Thibeault was working as a painter there, but again he was not found.

Thibeault was serving a 15-year sentence for robbery when he was indicted on a manslaughter charge in July 2011 in connection with the April 20, 2009, death of fellow prisoner 64-year-old Sheldon Weinstein. Thibeault was freed in September after he finished his sentence and the $100,000 surety bail on the manslaughter charge was posted with the court.

The indictment alleges that Thibeault “recklessly or with criminal negligence” caused Weinstein’s death. Police said at the time of Weinstein’s death that the prisoner died from a beating at the hands of other inmates.

Thibeault has been the only person charged in connection with the death.

At the time of his death, Weinstein — who was serving a two-year sentence for sexual assault against a child — was confined to a wheelchair after falling out of bed and breaking a leg. He was transferred to the Maine State Prison in Warren from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham eight days before his death in order to receive better medical care.

One guard was fired and another demoted as a result of an internal investigation into the death by prison officials.

Zainea asked Thursday that Thibeault be held without bail after he is arrested because he moved without notifying the court while on bail, failed to turn himself in after the arrest warrant was issued in May, and because of the seriousness of the charge.

Pratt asked that bail he allowed. He said that Thibeault has been free on bail for nearly two years without any incidents and that the state has a weak case.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm agreed with the state and ordered Thibeault be held without bail when he is apprehended.

Thursday’s scheduled hearing was postponed until Thibeault is located. One motion filed by the defense seeks to get the confidential personnel records of a former state prison investigator who handled the probe into Weinstein’s death as well as personnel records of someone who had worked at the Maine State Police crime laboratory.

The defense has asked for the personnel records to impeach the credibility of the two potential witnesses at the trial, which is scheduled for early October in Knox County.

The attorney general’s office also has filed a motion to prevent Thibeault’s attorneys from offering an alternate suspect defense. The prosecution claims that there is hardly a suspicion that another person committed the crime let alone the substantial facts required by law to offer an alternate suspect to the jury.

The defense has not yet offered an alternate suspect. But in an earlier motion filed by defense lawyers — Philip Cohen and Pratt — they claim that the prison guard who was fired had solicited other inmates to assault Weinstein. The motion states that the guard “did not appreciate Mr. Weinstein being in his pod because Weinstein was a convicted sex offender.”

The motion also lists a third prison guard — not one of the two employees named by the state as being disciplined after Weinstein’s death — who was placed on leave and then fired as a result of an investigation by the state. This third guard is believed to have been the last person to see Weinstein alive, according to the motion.

Weinstein’s wife, Janet, filed a notice of intent to sue the Maine Department of Corrections for its role in her husband’s death. The notice was submitted in 2009 but no lawsuit has yet been filed.

The Weinstein’s notice of claim stated that “the policy makers within the Maine Department of Corrections were deliberately indifferent to a culture of inmate violence in which jailhouse justice was meted out to inmates like Mr. Weinstein.”

The potential suit has been on hold pending the completion of Thibeault’s criminal trial.

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