A Scarborough man who may be the first criminal defendant in Maine to be denied his constitutional right to a lawyer and be ordered by a judge to represent himself at trial was surprised Monday as jury selection was about to begin by a new witness brought against him.
Joshua Nisbet, 36, has been in the Cumberland County Jail for nearly three years since he was charged by South Portland police with holding up a convenience store at knifepoint and had not heard the name Michael Barker in connection with his case until now.
Nisbet appeared in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland representing himself for the first time and became agitated within minutes, turning toward his family members seated in the back of the courtroom several times with a distressed look.
“Why am I hearing about this now after three years?” Nisbet asked the judge.
At each of Nisbet’s previous court appearances, he had a series of different attorneys to represent him. He accused one attorney after another of working against him, and each of them ultimately withdrew from his case.
The judge in the case, Justice Thomas Warren, ruled last month that Nisbet’s behavior and the fact that he has gone through five attorneys since his arrest in 2011 had left the defendant with “no other alternative” than to represent himself.
Warren issued that order after Nisbet’s most recent attorneys, Jon Gale and Neale Duffett, claimed that Nisbet threatened them during a jail visit on Feb. 26, saying he would hunt down Gale and shoot his eye out with a high-powered BB gun. Nisbet denied ever making that threat.
Before jury selection began, Nisbet became immediately frustrated with Warren as the judge was explaining the process. Warren began saying the names of possible witnesses that he would read aloud to the prospective jurors for possible conflicts. Nisbet stopped him on the second name.
“I have never heard of Michael Barker. I have never met Michael Barker,” Nisbet said.
The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Bud Ellis, said Barker has been on the state’s list as a potential witness from the start and that police took his written statement on April 1.
Barker, 50, of South Portland, told police in the statement that Nisbet came to him the day after the July 15, 2011, robbery at the Mobil gas station at 697 Main St. in South Portland and asked him to “get rid of an orange ski mask and pair of gloves.”
“You are now allowing documents in like you have for the corrupt cops. This is ridiculous, man,” Nisbet said.
A court-appointed attorney, Luke Rioux, who has been ordered to help Nisbet in his defense but is not allowed to represent him, offered to explain, but Nisbet refused to listen to him.
Nisbet calmed down when the judge ultimately explained that he would hold a hearing before the trial begins on April 28 before deciding whether Barker’s statement would be allowed into evidence.
After the exchange between Nisbet and the judge, jury selection went smoothly. Nisbet allowed Rioux to assist him during the most difficult part, deciding which potential jurors to eliminate from the larger pool.
Nisbet, dressed in a white dress shirt and yellow tie, said nothing while the jurors were in the room. The judge listed off the numbers of the selected jury – five men and 10 women, including three alternates – before releasing everyone in time for lunch.
Nisbet’s mother, Dani, said in the hallway outside the courtroom afterward that it makes her suspicious that the police waited until her son no longer had an attorney to introduce a new, damning witness.
“Big question. Why on April 1, 2014, when there’s been no mention of him with the trial coming up?” Dani Nisbet asked. “Now all of a sudden, this informant is coming forward? It’s unusual, to say the least.”
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: