PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A trial that will be closely watched throughout Maine got underway Monday morning as the state tries to prove that a landlord should be held accountable for six deaths at his building.
Gregory Nisbet owned the building on Noyes Street in Portland that was the scene of the worst fire in Maine in 40 years. Nisbet is facing six counts of manslaughter.
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 never should 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 was 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.
Gregory Nisbet could face up to 30 years in prison for each of the manslaughter counts if convicted. He also faces several code violation charges.
David Bragdon, Chris Conlee, Nicole Finlay, Maelisha Jackson, Steven Summers and Ashley Thomas died in the fire. They were all in their 20s. Several of their loved ones were in the courtroom following the trial.