Inmate expected to plead to lesser charge in prison death

Posted Jan. 08, 2014, at 7:54 p.m.
John Thibeault
John Thibeault
Sheldon Weinstein
Sheldon Weinstein

ROCKLAND, Maine — A former Maine State Prison inmate is expected to plead guilty Thursday to a lesser charge in connection with the death of another prisoner nearly five years ago.

A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9 in Knox County Superior Court in the case against 34-year-old John E. Thibeault who was indicted in July 2011 for manslaughter in connection with the April 20, 2009, death of fellow prisoner 64-year-old Sheldon Weinstein.

The indictment alleged that Thibeault “recklessly or with criminal negligence” caused Weinstein’s death. Police said at the time of his death that Weinstein, who was wheelchair-bound and serving a two-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a child, died from a beating at the hands of other inmates.

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

Thibeault was freed in September 2012 after he finished a 15-year sentence for robbery and made bail on the manslaughter charge. He went back to jail in early October 2013 after failing to attend a hearing on the manslaughter case.

Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt said Wednesday that his client plans to plead to a lesser offense of aggravated assault.

The case had been set to go to trial last year but the defense was not provided considerable amounts of evidence until near the start of 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 policymakers 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 case.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea did not return a phone call for comment on the case Wednesday afternoon.

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