Portland landlord to go on trial for fatal 2014 fire

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PORTLAND — Gregory Nisbet, charged with six counts of manslaughter after the deadliest fire in the city in 50 years, is scheduled to go on trial Friday, Sept. 30.

Nisbet, 51, of 124 Noyes St., was charged in connection with the Nov. 1, 2014, fire that killed six people at his apartment building at 20-24 Noyes St. He will be tried in Cumberland County Superior Court.

The case will be prosecuted by Maine Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese, according to court documents. Justice Thomas Warren will hear the case as a bench trial, because Nisbet waived his right to a jury trial.

Nisbet’s attorney, Matthew Nichols, did not return calls seeking comment about the trial.

Nisbet was indicted by a Cumberland County grand jury in July 2015 on six counts of Class A manslaughter and four Class E code violations. Efforts at a plea agreement failed before the case was heard by the grand jury.

He faces a maximum of 30 years imprisonment for each of the manslaughter counts.

In February 2015, Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas found the cause of the fire to be accidental, saying it began on the front porch of the home after a cigarette was improperly discarded.

The fire spread into the home because the front door was left open. Thomas’ report has been sealed because it was part of the criminal investigation launched by Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson.

Tenants David Bragdon Jr., 27, Ashley Thomas, 29, and Nicole Finlay, 26, city resident Christopher Conlee, 25, and Topsham resident Maelisha Jackson, 26, died in the blaze from smoke inhalation, according to the state Office of the Medical Examiner.

Rockland resident Steven Summers, 29, escaped the fire, but was severely burned and died Nov. 4, 2014, at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Conditions inside the house led to the manslaughter and code violation charges. Finlay and Thomas died in a third-floor bedroom that lacked a second exit, which is required by city codes.

According to wrongful death lawsuits filed against Nisbet, investigators found a second-floor stairway to the first floor was blocked by a bookcase. The building also lacked proper alarms and smoke detectors.

The fire was the deadliest in the city since six children died in a December 1963 blaze on Gilman Place in the city’s West End.

In the fire’s aftermath, the city put together a task force to review housing safety, inspections and code regulations. Following the task force recommendation, City Manager Jon Jennings created a Housing Safety Office that will implement citywide inspections of rental housing and a database containing inspection reports and complaints.

The civil lawsuits Nisbet faces in Cumberland County Superior Court seek damages of at least $11 million. The suit brought by Ashley Summers, the widow of Steven Summers, will be heard first, but not until the criminal case concludes.

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

The property at 20-24 Noyes St. in Portland, where a fire on Nov. 1, 2014, killed six people. The manslaughter trial of landlord Gregory Nisbet is scheduled to begin Friday, Sept. 30.

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.