Nightingale asks to suppress witness ID and to be tried separately for homicides

3 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Defense attorneys for the Presque Isle man charged with murder in the 2019 shooting deaths of  51-year-old Roger Ellis and 25-year-old Allen Curtis, both of Castle Hill, have asked a Superior Court judge to suppress a witness identification and to try Bobby Nightingale separately for other alleged crimes.

Shortly after the men were shot, their bodies were found in Ellis’ red Silverado pickup truck along Route 227. A black ATV appeared to have blocked or crashed into the front of the truck. The ATV matched the description of the one that Nightingale had been using, and his DNA was later found on the tow strap, according to court documents.

The killings made national headlines and shocked residents across The County unfamiliar with such a violent crime occurring in their tight-knit communities.

Nightingale, 39, is charged with eight crimes he allegedly committed between Aug. 5 and Aug. 13, 2019. In addition to two counts of murder, the charges include burglary, aggravated assault, criminal threatening and illegal possession of a dangerous weapon. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The prosecution claims the crimes are linked and the motions should not be granted. The defense believes there are three separate alleged crimes — a burglary and assault on Aug. 5, 2019, a report of criminal threatening on Aug. 10 and the homicides on Aug. 13. Nightingale was charged with illegally possessing a gun in each alleged crime. 

Justice Stephen Nelson held a hearing on the motions Monday in Caribou.

Bobby Nightingale, 38, (left) appears via video conference for his arraignment hearing in Caribou Superior Court on Oct. 16, 2019. (Nina Mahaleris | The Star-Herald)

Nightingale attended the hearing remotely from the Cumberland County Jail where he is boarded out from the Aroostook County Jail.

Attorneys John Tebbetts of Presque Isle and Robert Ruffner of Portland have asked that the identification of the man who allegedly broke into a Presque Isle home in the early morning hours of Aug. 5, 2019, not be presented to a jury. Police recovered a bullet from the wall of the bedroom where the alleged victim struggled with his masked attacker.

The alleged victim said at Monday’s hearing that initially he could not identify the man who broke into his home and threatened him with a gun. He told Nelson that he overheard police mention Nightingale as a possible suspect. The next day the witness found a picture of Nightingale on Facebook and recognized him as the man who allegedly broke into his home.

Tebbetts said the identification should be suppressed because the witness did not pick out Nightingale from an array of photos presented by police or from a lineup, which is standard procedure in an investigation.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who is prosecuting the case, told the judge that the bullet found in the wall after the burglary was similar to the ones recovered from the bodies of the homicide victims. 

Tebbetts countered that the state’s ballistic expert could not testify that the bullets came from the same gun. 

Robbin said Monday that the criminal threatening case is linked to the homicides because a witness can identify the distinctive sound made by Nightingale’s ATV, which may have been his mode of transportation on the night of the slayings.

Finally, Tebbetts argued that Nightingale should be tried separately on the homicides. Trying him on charges from all three incidents, two of which took place before the slayings, is the equivalent of introducing his long criminal history — also known as prior bad acts — which would not be allowed at a trial. 

Robbin argued that the incidents are linked and that the victim in the criminal threatening incident on Aug. 10, 2019, heard Nightingale leave the scene on a noisy ATV. That man will testify that he heard the same ATV on the night of the slayings after the shooting victims left a party at his home.

Nelson said that he would take the matter under advisement but did not give a timeframe for issuing a decision.

Nightingale’s trial is tentatively set for October in Caribou Superior Court.

Nightingale has been held since his arrest on Aug. 13, 2019. 

If convicted on the murder charges, he faces between 25 years and life in prison. Under Maine law, a judge may impose a life sentence if more than one person is slain in a crime.