Portland landlord contests conviction from deadly 2014 fire

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PORTLAND — The owner of the 20-24 Noyes St. building where six people died in a Nov. 1, 2014, fire is appealing his conviction for a code violation.

In a Dec. 19 motion, attorneys for landlord Gregory Nisbet asked Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren to grant a new trial or dismiss the conviction. 

The appeal comes because the defense was not provided an Oct. 17, 2013, memo from State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas that attorneys said would have led to a verdict of not guilty. They suggested the building conformed to state requirements as outlined in Thomas’ memo.

The motion was filed four days before Nisbet, 51, of 124 Noyes St., was scheduled to begin serving a 90-day jail sentence for the Class E conviction after it was determined that windows in the third-floor bedroom where three people died were not large enough to allow proper egress.

Attorneys Matthew Nichols declined to discuss the motion, except to say he expects the appeal to be heard in February.

The memo from Thomas said a policy that was taking effect Nov. 1, 2013, required buildings constructed before 1976, including 20-24 Noyes St., to have only 5 square feet of exit space. Buildings newer than that would be required to have 5.7 square feet.

Nichols said the defense team was unaware of the memo even after Nisbet’s trial and sentencing.

“If said memorandum were filed in a timely fashion, it probably would have changed the verdict in the case,” the appeal said. “Further, if a new trial is granted allowing admission of said memorandum, the verdict on Count 11 will change from guilty to not guilty.”

Nisbet was charged with six counts of Class A manslaughter for the deaths of David Bragdon Jr., 29; Nichole Finlay, 26; Ashley Thomas, 29; Christopher Conlee, 25; Maelisha Jackson, 26; and Steven Summers, 29.

He was also charged with code violations for the lack of alarms, smoke detectors and a secondary escape route from the third-floor bedroom rented to Finlay and Thomas, who died in the bedroom with Jackson.

Nisbet waived his right to a jury trial. On Oct. 20, he was found not guilty by Warren of all counts except the code violation. He was sentenced Dec. 1 and fined $1,000. The fine was the maximum amount for the Class E violation; the jail sentence was half the maximum.

Thomas ruled the fire was accidental and found it began on the front porch because of improperly discarded smoking materials.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Landlord Gregory Nisbet, right, listens Nov. 29 with attorneys Matthew Nichols and Sarah Churchill during his sentencing in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland. He is appealing his conviction for a code violation stemming from the Nov. 1, 2014, fire that killed six people at 20-24 Noyes St. 

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.