PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- After a highly anticipated trial, landlord Gregory Nisbet found not guilty on Friday by Superior Court Judge Thomas Warren, on six counts of manslaughter.
Judge Warren did find Nisbet guilty of one fire code violation in the deadly Noyes St. fire that killed six people two years ago.
Many of the victim's family members walked out crying as the judge was delivering the non-guilty verdict.
All six victims died of smoke inhalation and could have escaped if there was an escape route, said Judge Warren. The judge said this along with other evidence played a factor in his ruling
The state was unsuccessful in proving that a landlord should be held accountable for six deaths at his building, according to the judge.
Gregory Nisbet owned the building on Noyes Street in Portland that was the scene of the worst fire in Maine in 40 years. Nisbet was facing six counts of manslaughter and 30 years in prison for each of the manslaughter counts if convicted. He was also facing several code violation charges.
The state does not claim that Gregory Nisbet is responsible for the fire. It was caused by careless disposal of smoking materials. But the state does claim that Nisbet was the legal cause of the deaths, not the fire.
Opening statements got underway Monday morning before Judge Thomas Warren. Nisbet’s attorney waived the right to a jury trial so Justice Warren will decide this case. In outlining the state’s case, the prosecutor told the judge that Nisbet had given up caring for the building.
It was in foreclosure at the time of the fire and Nisbet had stopped payments on it. He no longer improved, maintained or inspected it. Nisbet’s attorney told the judge to focus on the state the tenants were in as the fire spread and whether or not the possible code violations factored in the deaths.
The prosecutor said for at least three of the tenants there was no way for them to get out.
“They should never have been on the third floor in the first place," said Assistant Attorney General John Alsop.
"But as they were there they were trapped and died a horrible death, unable to escape because there were no means of escape."
“From incapacitation, which means you can still be mobile, it's just not in a goal-oriented fashion to clinical death then apply any life safety ordinance violations you think, may have occurred or may be relevant to the ultimate issue of causation,” countered Matt Nichols, Nisbet's attorney.
A landlord has never been charged in Maine with causing the death of a tenant because of conditions at his building.
David Bragdon, Chris Conlee, Nicole Finlay, Maelisha Jackson, Steven Summers and Ashley Thomas died in the fire. They were all in their 20's.