ROCKLAND, Maine — An attorney for a former Maine State Prison inmate accused of beating another prisoner to death argued Monday that as many as four alternative suspects could be responsible.
But Justice Jeffrey Hjelm said he won’t decide whether to allow the defense to present any alternate suspects until the manslaughter trial of John Thibeault, 34, of Brewer, begins in three weeks.
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, who was serving a two-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a child. Thibeault was freed in September after he finished his sentence and made bail on the manslaughter charge.
Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt, who represents Thibeault with attorney Philip Cohen, argued in Knox County Superior Court Monday that there is sufficient information to offer four alternate suspects to the jury.
The BDN is not naming the four suspects because they have not been charged with any crime.
They include a former prison guard who allegedly repeatedly told other prisoners that someone needed to take care of Weinstein. The guard is alleged by inmates to have asked prisoners whether a person who sexually assaulted a child should be living in their section of the prison.
The guard has since been fired from the prison following an investigation into Weinstein’s death.
Another alternative suspect is a prisoner who allegedly wrote a letter to another inmate, saying that Weinstein was a “perfect mark” for being extorted. Weinstein was confined to a wheelchair and had a large account for canteen purchases. The inmate allegedly stated that Weinstein could be good for $300 to $400 per week.
A third suspect is an inmate that borrowed some weight lifting gloves at about the time that Weinstein was assaulted even though the recreation center was not open.
The fourth suspect is a person whose name is not known, Pratt said. The attorney pointed out in his argument Monday that Weinstein reported being assaulted going to the chow hall. Pratt cited a report from the chief medical examiner that the autopsy could not determine the exact time when the injuries that led to Weinstein’s death were inflicted.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said the defense has not meet the standard of proof to offer an alternative suspect.
In regard to the inmate who borrowed the gloves for weight lifting, the state crime laboratory tested the gloves for DNA evidence and found none, the prosecutor said.
And in connection to the possible assault against Weinstein when he was going for a meal, Zainea said the defense is saying that anyone could be the alternate suspect.
Pratt said Zainea was seeking more definitive evidence concerning the alternative suspects than he wanted to share before the trial.
“She wants a sneak preview of our defense,” Pratt said.
Monday’s hearing was originally scheduled for Sept. 5, but it was postponed when Thibeault failed to appear for the court session. Hjelm ordered that when Thibeault was found he was to be held in jail without bail until he appeared before him.
Thibeault arrived for Monday’s hearing not in custody but was then ordered taken to the Knox County Jail and held without bail, pending the trial.
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. 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 completion of Thibeault’s criminal trial.
Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately attributed a statement to the defendant. It was other inmates at the Maine State Prison who said they overheard a guard saying something had to be done about a sex offender who was later beaten and died.