Joshua Nisbet, possibly the first defendant in Maine to be stripped by a judge’s order of his constitutional right to an attorney, was found guilty of robbery Thursday by a jury after a four-day trial.

Nisbet, who has no legal training and said repeatedly that he didn’t want to represent himself at trial, showed little reaction to the verdict while the jury was in the courtroom in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. It took the jury an hour of deliberation to reach its verdict.

But once the jury left, Nisbet asked Justice Thomas Warren to sentence him on the spot. Nisbet has already spent nearly three years in jail awaiting trial and faces as much as 30 years in prison for the robbery conviction, but he cannot file an appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court until sentencing is complete.

Before the trial, Warren issued the order stripping Nisbet of his right to an attorney, which members of Maine’s legal circles have said is apparently unprecedented. Warren wrote in his ruling in March that Nisbet had been so uncooperative with a series of court-appointed attorneys that he had “forfeited his right to counsel.”

The judge declined to grant Nisbet’s wish to be sentenced immediately, saying he wanted a chance to review sentences in other “drug-habit induced robberies” and hear input from people involved with Nisbet or affected by his actions.

“I’d rather not shoot from the hip,” Warren said.


Then the judge did something of a reversal on his March order by appointing two attorneys to represent Nisbet at sentencing, which he scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. He ordered Nisbet held without bail until then.

During the trial, Nisbet handled his own defense while two standby attorneys assigned by the court to assist him often quietly whispered in his ear.

The judge asked those two standby attorneys, Luke Rioux and Mark Peltier, to accept a short-term appointment to speak aloud on Nisbet’s behalf at sentencing after having to sit quietly throughout the trial.

“Of course the whole thing is strange, but sentencing counsel and trial counsel are two very different things,” Rioux said after he and Peltier left the courtroom.

Nisbet has had five court-appointed attorneys since his arrest on July 18, 2011, after a standoff that involved a SWAT team days after the robbery. He has been held at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland since then.

Each attorney sought to withdraw from the case after citing serious breakdowns in the attorney-client relationship. Nisbet said he believes that each of the lawyers had begun to work against him.


The judge issued his order in March after Nisbet’s most recent attorneys, Jon Gale and Neale Duffett, sought to withdraw from the case, saying in a motion that Nisbet threatened Gale while they met with him in the Cumberland County Jail on Feb. 26.

According to the motion, Nisbet told them, “I don’t care if I get 15 years, when I get out, I will be outside your house with a high-powered BB gun and I will take your eye out. I’m not getting life. I’ll never forget. I’m coming after you when I get out.” Nisbet denies making the threat.

Rioux said that he believes the judge stripped Nisbet of his right to an attorney because assigning him new trial lawyers would have delayed the case while those lawyers got up to speed.

“I think the rationale was appointing new trial counsel would delay the proceeding, but that’s out the window now that he’s been found guilty and facing sentencing,” said Rioux, who also writes a legal blog for

Nisbet, 37, of Scarborough, was convicted of using a knife to threaten a store clerk during a robbery at the Mobil Mart on Main Street in South Portland on July 15, 2011. The store’s security camera captured a picture of a masked robber with a four-letter tattoo in the same place on his neck where Nisbet has the four-letter name of his son.

Nisbet told the jurors in his closing arguments Thursday morning that the security camera images were of “wicked poor quality.” He said although he and the man in the image both have neck tattoos, it doesn’t mean it’s him.


Nisbet submitted an exhibit into evidence for the jury to see that showed that during a four-month period at the Cumberland County Jail, 150 inmates had neck tattoos.

“I’m sure you’ve all been in that situation. You see someone at the mall and you think it’s someone you know, but it’s not,” Nisbet told the jury during his 10½ minutes of closing arguments.

The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Bud Ellis, argued that Nisbet’s mother, Dani Nisbet, had identified her own son from those security camera images as the robber prior to his trial. Her equivocating during trial testimony may have been an attempt to protect her son, but it doesn’t change what she had said earlier, Ellis said.

“Her concern for her son nowadays can’t undo the truth,” Ellis said.

Ellis said that Nisbet was a “relapsed, desperate drug addict” who admitted in recorded phone conversations with his mother from jail after his arrest that he had been in a “blackout” state on the day of the robbery from taking Xanax and heroin.

Speaking outside the courtroom after the verdict, Ellis said that while the case had been unusual, most of the tension stemmed from Nisbet’s conflict with his own attorneys, not with the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office.


“I’ve fastidiously avoided getting in the middle of that,” Ellis said. “It’s a truly unique situation. I’ve never been in one quite like this. That’s for sure.”

Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at:

Twitter: @scottddolan


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