Manslaughter case postponed until January
Rockland — A 2009 manslaughter case scheduled for trial next week has been pushed back to January, said a defense attorney involved in the case.
The case, involving the beating death of a Maine State Prison inmate confined to a wheelchair, was postponed 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 trial.
Their client, John E. Thibeault, 34, 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.
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. He was released on bail in 2011. He lived in Orono before going to prison, according to court records.
In Knox County Superior Court Oct. 3, Pratt, addressing Justice Jeffrey Hjelm, said the fact that the defense did not receive material including interviews with witnesses, and the dismissal letter of a corrections officer for "encouraging or instigating" the incident until days before the trial is expected to start, is disturbing. He asked for the case to be dismissed, or for the testimony of witnesses for the state to be thrown out. "We're asking for fair treatment," he said.
Pratt said some interviews that were received late are of people considered to be alternative suspects in the crime. He said the defense needs additional time to conduct their own interviews with an investigator and prepare their case. He said the late information guarantees an unfair trial for the defendant.
He also added that interviews were redacted or missing information.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, prosecution for the state, said she takes her obligation to provide materials to the defense seriously, and asserted she requested interview transcripts from the Department of Corrections immediately for the defense.
Assistant Attorney General Diane Sleek said some information was nixed from interview transcripts provided to the defense because it did not pertain to the case. She said the omitted portions discussed about medical or mental health issues of interviewees, or general talk that had nothing to do with the case, and therefore unnecessary to include.
Pratt added unless the state is punished for providing the material late, the practice will continue. Pratt also asked that his client be released on bail. Justice Hjelm did not make a decision on the bail request, and he is also expected to determine whether or not to sanction the state for the late material submission.
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.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
594-4401 ext. 118
Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.
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