ROCKLAND, Maine — Franklin Higgins said he struck fellow Maine State Prison inmate Lloyd Millett on the side of the head with a pipe clamp as Millett lunged at him in the wood shop.
Higgins, 50, took the witness stand in his own defense Thursday afternoon in Knox County Superior Court. Higgins is charged with aggravated attempted murder in connection to the May 24, 2011, incident. Millett died two weeks later from a fractured skull and a heart condition.
Higgins said he had been threatened, harassed and assaulted by Millett in the two months leading up to May 24.
Higgins said Millett had been demanding $50 a month from him as well as demanding that Higgins give him his canteen card that allows prisoners to purchase items from vending machines.
One day while working at his station in the wood shop, Higgins testified Millett and fellow prisoner Brad Chesnel approached him and Millett put a pair of scissors against his back and told him,”see what I got? I can do this anytime, anywhere.”
There was also an incident when Millett ordered Higgins to come to his cell and then without warning punched Higgins in the face. Millett then told him be better pay up, Higgins said.
Higgins also recounted incidents involving Millett and other prisoners in which he assaulted them, robbed them and said he would rape one of them. Higgins said that Millett — who was serving a life sentence for raping and murdering two young women — also told Higgins that he had no qualms about killing a female nurse at the prison who would not give him the medication he had wanted.
Higgins said he was scared of Millett and his gang that included Chesnel.
The morning of the May 24 altercation, Higgins said Millett came up to his work station and told an inmate who works with Higgins that he was going to need a new partner because Higgins would not be coming to work again.
Later that morning, Higgins said he was walking past Millett’s work station when Millett grabbed his shirt and pulled on him.
“I swung back, it was a reflex reaction. I hit him with the pipe clamp,” Higgins said.
Millett, who was described by witnesses as 6 feet, 4 inches tall and more than 300 pounds, hunched down and lunged at Higgins.
“At this point, I figured he was going to take me out,” Higgins said.
Higgins said he swung the pipe clamp and struck Millett on the side of the head. Millett stumbled back and then fell to the floor, Higgins said.
Higgins said he then walked back to his work station.
He said he denied involvement when questioned by investigators. He said he feared saying what had happened because the remainder of Millett’s gang was still at the prison.
Earlier Thursday, the chief investigator at the Maine State Prison testified that he had received information about Higgins being extorted and assaulted by Millett.
Investigator John Scheid said he received information from other inmates after the May 24 altercation that Higgins previously had been the victim of extortion and assault at the hands of Millett.
Scheid also said he wrote a letter to the prison warden after the death of Millett suggesting that — based on information the investigator gathered concerning extortion by prisoners against other inmates — prisoner Chesnel should be transferred out of the Maine State Prison. The investigator said if Millett had not died, he also would have recommended that Millett be transferred out of the prison for the same reasons.
Chesnel remains incarcerated at the state prison.
The defense is claiming that Higgins struck Millett in self-defense in the wood shop of the prison after Millett had threatened Higgins. Last week, the defense unsuccessfully argued before Justice Joyce Wheeler that it should be allowed to present evidence that pointed to Chesnel as an alternate suspect in Millett’s death. Justice Wheeler ruled against that request, saying the testimony presented during the hearing on the motion amounted to nothing more than prison gossip.
Two prisoners testified Wednesday that Millett and Chesnel, who are physically larger than most inmates, used their size and accomplices to intimidate and extort certain prisoners.
On Thursday, Scheid said prisoner Shannon Atwood told him about an extortion ring operating inside the prison. When defense attorney Philip Cohen attempted to get Scheid to offer details to the jury about the extortion ring, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea objected and Wheeler agreed that Scheid did not have to answer that question.
Higgins was placed in segregation after the incident and remains there nearly two years later.
Jurors were shown a less than one minute video clip taken at the woodshop on the morning of the incident which shows Higgins walking by the camera carrying what appears to be a pipe clamp. About 30 seconds later he is seen walking back toward his work station with nothing in his hand. The video does not show Millett or the alleged assault.
The prosecution was planning to call Maine State Police lead investigator Abbe Chabot to the stand and conclude its case later Thursday but she was not available Thursday afternoon and the state rested with the provision that it could call Chabot to the stand.
The defense has said it expects to complete its case Friday.
Higgins is serving a 45-year sentence for a 1999 murder. Millett was serving a life sentence for murdering two young women. Chesnel is serving a life sentence for a 1997 murder. Atwood is serving a 55-year sentence for a 2006 murder.