PORTLAND, Maine — A Portland landlord who has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges stemming from the most deadly fire in Maine in 40 years has waived his right to a jury trial.
Gregory Nisbet has been indicted on six counts of manslaughter in the wake of the fire, which was discovered Nov. 1, 2014, after a Halloween party in the home. Six tenants died in the fire.
A judge granted the request for a bench trial on Aug. 31, said Matthew Nichols, a lawyer for Nisbet. Nichols said he believes the complexity of the information that will come forward during the trial could overwhelm a jury.
The trial will also address whether the Noyes Street home that burned was being used as a duplex or a rooming house, Nichols said. He contends that it was the former, while investigators have said they believed it was being used illegally as a rooming house.
The trial is set to begin Oct. 3.
“I think it would be very, very difficult to ask a jury in this case to go through the number of legal issues at work,” Nichols said. “It’s very complex.”
The home has been razed since the fire. Investigators have said the fire started on the porch because of improperly disposed smoking materials. They have also said the house didn’t have functioning smoke detectors, and a lawsuit states that an emergency exit was impassable.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese said there’s always the possibility of plea negotiations, but she added that the state is preparing for trial next month.
“We’ve been confident in our position since the beginning. The grand jury obviously agreed with us,” she said. “We’re confident going forward not just with the manslaughter charges but the code violations as well.”
Families are suing Nisbet in civil court for failing to keep the building safe.
The fire killed residents Nicole Finlay, David Bragdon Jr., Ashley Thomas and Christopher Conlee; Topsham resident Maelisha Jackson; and Rockland resident Steven Summers. Several others escaped.
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland contributed to this report.