PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A judge has acquitted landlord Gregory Nisbet of 10 of the 11 charges he faced.
Nisbet was found not guilty of six counts of manslaughter and of four code violations. However, the judge did find him guilty of one misdemeanor. On that charge, the judge determined the third floor of his building did not have a second means of escape because the windows were too small. Three of the victims became trapped up there.
In announcing his decision, Justice Thomas Warren called the deaths tragic and heartbreaking. But he said the evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that landlord Gregory Nisbet’s actions caused the deaths of the victims or rose to the level of criminal conduct.
“While the deaths of Maelisha Jackson, David Bragdon Jr, Nicole Finlay, Ashley Thomas, Christopher Conlee and Steven Summers were tragic and heartbreaking — really tragic and heartbreaking beyond words can express — the court finds Gregory Nisbet not guilty of the six manslaughter counts in the indictment," he said.
If convicted, Nisbet would have become the first landlord in the state to be held accountable for the deaths of his tenants because of the condition of his building.
“The families are very disappointed, we are disappointed," prosecutor Bud Ellis said. "We knew from the beginning it was a difficult case. Unprecedented from everything that's been described."
Nisbet’s attorney said there’s no celebrating after this verdict.
“If you saw Greg's reaction inside, there was no certainly no high-fiving or smiling or cheering," attorney Matt Nichols said.
If the state was trying to send a message to landlords by taking this case to trial, both sides agree it succeeded, despite the outcome.
“If this case, this prosecution, has not at least had the effect of having every single landlord re-examining their policies and practices, I don't know what will," Nichols said.
“The fire marshal has made it clear the day after the trial started, with all the press coverage, the phones have been ringing off the hook. They had landlords calling. They wanted inspections, they wanted to know what they have to do," Ellis said.
None of the victim’s relatives wanted to comment, but one could be heard in the hallway afterward, saying “ridiculous," when asked what they thought of the verdict.