Former inmate pleads no contest to reduced charge in death of fellow prisoner

By Juliette Laaka | Jan 09, 2014
John Thibeault.

Rockland — A 34-year-old former Maine State Prison inmate entered a no contest plea Jan. 9 to a charge of aggravated assault in the 2009 beating death of a fellow prisoner.

John E. Thibeault was originally indicted for a charge of manslaughter, but his defense attorneys Philip Cohen and Jeremy Pratt reached a plea agreement with Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea a day before jury selection was to begin.

The trial was originally scheduled to start Jan. 13.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm accepted a no contest plea for the aggravated assault charge and a guilty plea to a failure to appear charge from Thibeault. The defendant will be incarcerated for nine months in the Knox County Jail for the assault charge, and will serve three months consecutively for the failure to appear charge. The full sentence is an 8 year sentence, but only 9 months will be served. Thibeault will be on three years of probation upon his release.

The case, involving the beating death of a Maine State Prison inmate confined to a wheelchair, was postponed from October to allow the defense counsel, Jeremy Pratt and Philip Cohen, time to sift through information provided to them by the state just days before the original trial date.

Thibeault pleaded not guilty to a manslaughter charge at his arraignment in September 2011. Thibeault was a prisoner at the Maine State Prison in April 2009, when he was accused of causing the death of fellow inmate Sheldon Weinstein.

Weinstien died of a ruptured spleen, according to the state medical examiner. He died four days after he told medical personnel at the prison he had been beaten up.

Zainea said she would have called witnesses at the trial, including inmates, who would testify they heard Thibeault describe the punches he threw at Weinstein, hitting him on the face and body.

Another inmate is said to have participated in the beating, and in court it was said inmates told investigators they had been given permission to "slap around" Weinstein.

A Knox County grand jury indicted Thibeault in July 2011.The indictment stated Thibeault acted recklessly or with criminal negligence that caused Weinstein's death. Maine State Police determined the death was a homicide resulting from a beating.

Thibeault completed a six-year prison term for robbery and was released on bail in 2011. He was a resident of Orono before going to prison, according to court records.

Weinstein's wife, Janet Weinstein of Hartford, Conn., filed a notice of intent to sue the prison in 2009. Her attorney Scott Gardner of Biddeford filed the notice with the state alleging "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."

For now, this is only notice of intent to sue rather than a lawsuit, and Gardner said the civil case is on hold pending the results of Thibeault's trial.

Weinstein had been incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham because he was serving no more than two years. At that center, he fell out of bed and broke his leg and was confined to a wheelchair. Weinstein was transferred to the Warren prison eight days before his death because the medical resources were considered to be superior. Weinstein had type 1 diabetes that required multiple daily insulin injections.

As a result of the death, the prison launched an administrative review while the Attorney General's Office and Maine State Police conducted a criminal investigation..

Prison Corrections Officer Joshua Bailey was fired and Sgt. William Robinson was demoted to a correctional officer as a result of the internal investigation at the Maine State Prison, according to a statement issued in 2009 by the Corrections Department.

Weinstein was serving a sentence for sexual assault against a child.

Weinstien's wife will be present at Thibeault's sentencing, which is scheduled for next week.

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@couierpublicationsllc.com.

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Juliette Laaka
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Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.

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