Maine Supreme Court Hears Portland Landlord's Appeal In Fatal Fire Conviction

May 15, 2018

Maine's highest court heard oral arguments Tuesday that could decide whether a Portland landlord should be jailed for violating codes at an apartment house he owned, where six people were killed in a fire in 2014.

Lawyer Luke Rioux argued for vacating Gregory Nisbet's conviction and 90-day jail sentence on a misdemeanor code violation. Rioux maintains that the state's code requirement for window size was unconstitutionally ambiguous, and he argued that state prosecutors failed to properly enter the code into evidence during trial — drawing sharp questioning from Justice Joseph Jabar.

"The state's expert witnesses and the defense expert witnesses were not aware of it and yet Mr. Nisbet is being sent to jail," Rioux said.

"But if nobody was aware of it, how could you say the state suppressed it?" Jabar said.

"The witnesses were in possession of it and turned it over," Rioux said.

"And as soon as the state found out about it through the witness they gave it to you," Jabar said.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber told the court that all evidence demonstrated that the third-floor windows were too small to allow for a direct escape from the fire, and that Nisbet, who had been warned that his top-floor windows might not meet code, was criminally responsible for the deaths of six people.

While the court considers its decision, Nisbet, who says he is now indigent, remains free on bail.