CARIBOU — Bobby Nightingale, a 41-year-old Houlton man, on Friday was convicted of murdering Roger Ellis and Allen Curtis around midnight in Castle Hill almost three years ago. He faces up to life in prison.
A jury of four men and eight women deliberated for less than three hours before agreeing to convict Nightingale of both murders. Nightingale’s attorneys declined to call any witnesses in his defense.
Ellis and Curtis were fatally shot four to five times each through the torso and head, according to the state medical examiner. State Police found them in the cab of a red pickup truck on State Road in the early hours of August 13, 2019. The truck had struck a four-wheel ATV, but its rider was not immediately found.
Multiple witnesses who lived in the vicinity of the shooting testified that they heard a loud ATV, which Nightingale was known to drive, and gunshots. No one testified that they saw Nightingale on the ATV the night of the shooting.
Nightingale’s DNA was found on a ratchet strap attached to the ATV at the crime scene, though it is unknown when he may have touched it. Microscopic marks on some of the shell casings and bullets recovered from the truck match a gun found with Nightingale a few days after the shooting, according to an analysis by the Maine State Police Crime Lab.
Throughout the trial, Nightingale’s lawyers tried to introduce multiple alternative suspects, including one who threatened to kill Curtis the same evening as the shooting and had taken off on his own ATV.
The lawyers also pointed to another man whose frightened neighbors called 911 as he ran around banging on doors and yelling for help while claiming armed men were trying to kill him the same night as the shooting. Maine State Police investigated and determined the shots came from within the man’s residence and were unrelated to the deaths of Ellis and Curtis, police testified.
In text messages, Facebook chats and statements to police during the days after the shooting, Nightingale repeatedly alleged that his four-wheel ATV was stolen from him that night.
Family members of Ellis and Curtis filled several benches of the Aroostook County Superior Court courtroom each day of the trial and listened intently as the jury was instructed Friday on the unanimous decision they would need to reach that Nightingale had intentionally and knowingly shot Ellis and Curtis.
“You just never know if there will be justice, but there is,” said Alice Curtis, the mother of Allen Curtis. “And I know when that jury comes back what they’re going to say and that’s great.”
Alice Curtis said she expected the jury to find Nightingale guilty. The jury did just that a few hours later.
Justice Stephen Nelson, who presided over the trial, will separately decide whether to convict Nightingale of three felony charges related to possession of a gun and threatening a person with a firearm.
Nelson accepted the state’s request to exclude any testimony on the state police’s handling of Nightingale’s confidential phone calls with his attorney.
On Wednesday, prosecutors played recordings of three phone calls that Nightingale made from the Aroostook County Jail. Portions of his calls about a gun and an ATV found at the crime scene were played for the jury. A recording of an automated message at the beginning of each jail call announcing that it is subject to recording and monitoring was also played.
Prosecutors asked the judge Thursday to then block potential questions about recordings of other calls Nightingale made to his attorney, which the state’s primary detective Gregory Roy had listened to during the murder investigation.
All calls that jailed defendants make from jail are recorded, but there is supposed to be an exception for their phone calls to attorneys.
Four Maine jails — in Aroostook, Androscoggin, Franklin and Kennebec counties — recorded nearly 1,000 calls that prisoners made to lawyers between June 2019 and May 2020, an investigation this year by The Maine Monitor found. Recordings of some confidential calls were shared and listened to by police or prosecutors.
Calls Nightingale made to his lawyer John Tebbetts, of Presque Isle, were recorded by the Cumberland County Jail and shared with Roy.
Roy told a prosecutor in May 2020 that he had heard part of a phone call between Nightingale and Tebbetts or his law office’s secretary. He said it had happened once before and that he had stopped listening both times, according to an affidavit filed in court.
Roy “assumed that my receipt of the calls was an isolated mistake,” but after reading a news article about a similar incident at another jail he alerted the state’s prosecutor, according to the affidavit. He did not write any notes about the calls he heard.
Prosecutors alerted Tebbetts of the recordings. It prompted Tebbetts to do a larger search that uncovered that the Aroostook County Jail had also recorded 304 phone calls jailed clients made to him. Some jail administration, county employees and law enforcement personnel had gone a step further and selected to “playback” 58 of those recordings and “download” 17 more recordings, The Maine Monitor reported.
Among the recordings that were downloaded were three calls that Nightingale had made to Tebbetts from the Aroostook County Jail, data show.
Nelson ruled before the jury trial began that prosecutors had not violated discovery rules when they didn’t disclose the specific phone calls that Roy heard, The Maine Monitor reported.
A date for Nightingale’s sentencing has not yet been set.
Samantha Hogan reports on government accountability and the criminal justice system for The Maine Monitor. Reach her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.