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Widow of inmate killed in Maine State Prison awarded $100,000

Janet Weinstein, whose husband, Sheldon Weinstein, was beaten to death by other inmates in April 2009, filed a notice of intent to sue shortly after his death

By Eric Russell
Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND, Maine — The widow of a convicted sex offender who was killed in the Maine State Prison five years ago was paid $100,000 by the state to settle a wrongful-death claim.

Janet Weinstein, whose husband, Sheldon Weinstein, was beaten to death by other inmates in April 2009, filed a notice of intent to sue shortly after his death. In it, she claimed that “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,” and asked for at least $1 million in damages.

The settlement agreement releases the state and its medical provider, Corizon Inc., from any liability in Weinstein’s death. It includes a requirement that neither the state nor Janet Weinstein discuss the terms of the settlement. Her attorney, Scott Gardner of Biddeford, did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Sheldon Weinstein, who was 64, was severely diabetic and nursing a broken leg when he was beaten by other inmates on April 20, 2009. He died four days later from a combination of blood in the abdominal cavity, delayed rupture of his spleen and blunt force trauma, according to the state medical examiner’s report.

State officials began investigating Weinstein’s death immediately, but more than two years passed before anyone was charged.

John Thibeault, 34, who was serving time on the same block as Weinstein in the Warren prison, was initially charged with manslaughter in Weinstein’s death. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault in January.

The state offered Thibeault a plea deal, largely because proving that Thibeault caused Weinstein’s death would have been difficult.

Thibeault, who was in the prison for robbery, was sentenced to eight years in prison for Weinstein’s death, but will serve only nine months. The rest of the sentence was suspended.

Janet Weinstein attended Thibeault’s sentencing and called his sentence a slap on the wrist. She said she was frustrated that she had never found out exactly what happened to her husband in his final days. She said she hoped that a federal lawsuit and subsequent trial might change that.

State investigators have said from the start that they believe several inmates had a hand in Weinstein’s death, but witnesses – other prisoners – gave conflicting stories. Other than Thibeault, no one has been charged.

One prison official, Joshua Bailey, was fired after an investigation into Weinstein’s death. Another official, William Robinson, was demoted.

Weinstein was in the middle of a two-year sentence for sexually assaulting a child. He had been in the Maine Correctional Facility in Windham but was transferred to the state prison about a week before his death because he broke his leg and needed additional medical care.

Scott Fish, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the $100,000 for the settlement comes from the state’s self-insurance pool, which is managed by the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

In the last five years, that department has processed 1,318 claims and all but 227 have been resolved. The cost to settle those claims, including tort claims, vehicle liability, property loss and sexual harassment cases, has been just short of $4.6 million, said Jennifer Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

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