ROCKLAND — A 35-year-old Thomaston man pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter in the death of a fellow inmate at the state prison in 2018.

Zachary W. Titus had pleaded not guilty in February 2019 to a murder charge, which is being dropped under a plea agreement.

Titus was charged with strangling 28-year-old Dana R. Bartlett at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren on June 24, 2018.

The sentencing agreement calls for 18 years in prison with all but 12 years suspended. That 12 years will be a cap and Peterson can argue for less time including, including having the entire sentence suspended, to be followed by four years of probation.

The sentence for murder in Maine is 25 years to life in prison, while manslaughter carries a 30-year maximum sentence. Sentencing is expected in March.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Zainea outlined the evidence the state would have presented had the case gone to trial.

Titus killed Bartlett during a fight over stolen cigarettes, according to an affidavit filed by Maine State Police Detective Joshua Birmingham. Witnesses told police that Titus put a choke hold on Bartlett, the affidavit said, and an autopsy done by the Maine Medical Examiner’s Office determined Bartlett died of strangulation.

Bartlett was housed in a cell with three other inmates, including Titus.

After the fight, Titus went to a corrections officer and said Bartlett needed help, the affidavit says. The officer performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and administered naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, to Bartlett, not knowing what had occurred. The officer and emergency medical personnel were unable to revive Bartlett.

Titus and the other two roommates were strip-searched and their clothing taken by prison staff immediately after Bartlett was declared dead. Titus had scratches and bruises on his body, but the other two inmates did not, according to the police report. Staff also seized a wristwatch from Titus.

During a recorded telephone call earlier in the day, Titus accused Bartlett of stealing cigarettes from one of the other inmates, the affidavit says. Titus also said he and Bartlett had fought a few days earlier, and that Bartlett had punched Titus in the mouth, according to the affidavit.

Investigators reviewed surveillance video of the hallway where Bartlett, Titus and the other two inmates lived. It showed Bartlett entering the room, then several minutes later the two other roommates left. Four minutes later, Titus left the room and entered the bathroom – a red-brown stain can be seen on his T-shirt. He can also been seen looking at his fingernails, according to the affidavit.

One of the other roommates, Joshua Welch, told investigators that when he returned to the room after a smoke break, he saw Bartlett’s body on the floor and Titus told him that Bartlett “just came at me and I choked him out.” Welch said that when he left the room, Titus was trying to wake Bartlett, the affidavit said.

The other roommate, Robert Payzant, told investigators he saw Titus put Bartlett in a sleeper hold.

Blood with Bartlett’s DNA was found on the watch.

Titus was serving two years for felony theft at the time of Bartlett’s death, and had entered prison in March 2018. His last residence before prison was Beechwood Street in Thomaston, according to court records.

Titus has a lengthy criminal record in Knox County, but none for violent offenses. Since 2013, there are multiple theft cases, burglary of a motor vehicle and negotiating a worthless instrument.

Prior to his sentencing in March 2018 for theft and criminal trespass at Walmart, Titus sought admission to the Maine Coastal Regional Re-entry Center in Belfast. He wrote a letter to the court asking to be allowed into that center, saying he thought programs for substance abuse and anger management could help him avoid committing new offenses.

“I also would like to attend bible studies and church when available to maintain my spirituality,” Titus stated in his letter.

Bartlett was sentenced in March 2018 to 16 months in prison for driving a motor vehicle after his license was revoked as a habitual offender. He lived in Lewiston.

In August 2018, Jason Palmiter, who was released July 6, said he spoke with Bartlett the day he died, and that Bartlett had gone to a corrections officer and asked to be moved to another cell because he was being threatened. Other people in his cell suspected him of stealing cigarettes, according to Palmiter.

Bartlett told Palmiter that the guard did not seem concerned and did nothing, Palmiter said.

Bartlett’s mother, brother and sister viewed the Dec. 17 hearing via video.

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