LEWISTON — Prosecutors are seeking to have a local teen tried as an adult on a manslaughter charge in the death of a local man who was struck in the head with a rock last summer during a melee on Knox Street.

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, 17, looks to his attorney, Allan Lobozzo, during a detention hearing in 8th District Court in Lewiston on Tuesday. The teen is charged with manslaughter in the June 12, 2018, death of Donald Giusti. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

The man later died from that injury.

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, 17, appeared in 8th District Court on Tuesday for a detention hearing where a judge ordered him to remain at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.

In addition to Nkurunziza, a 13-year-old boy and a 23-year-old man, both of Lewiston, were arrested in the June 2018 beating death of Donald G. Giusti near Kennedy Park. The two were charged with misdemeanor assault.

Giusti, 38, died June 15 at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, three days after he was beaten on Knox Street.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea told Judge Rick Lawrence that Nkurunziza should stay in custody until an alternative placement can be found that would provide supervision for the teen. She said he withdrew from school a couple of days before he was arrested April 11 on the manslaughter charge. Nkurunziza had been living in Limestone where he was enrolled in the Loring Job Corps Center for job training.

Defense attorney Allan Lobozzo argued that Nkurunziza’s admission to the selective federal program in Limestone was “an accomplishment.” He had left Lewiston High School to enroll in that program, Lobozzo pointed out.

Because of the pending manslaughter charge, Zainea said Nkurunziza isn’t able to return to that program. Many juvenile programs won’t accept someone with a pending felony charge, she said. Because he is no longer enrolled at Lewiston High School, Zainea said Nkurunziza would have no routine if released back into the local community.

Reached later, Lobozzo said his client can reenroll at Lewiston High School at any time.

Nkurunziza had just turned 17 on June 12, the date of the incident, Zainea said. He had been living with his parents but was on the street at 10:45 p.m. without supervision, “when mischief and criminal conduct can occur,” she told the judge. If his parents couldn’t keep track of him nearly a year ago, “it’s going to be much more difficult” to be able to monitor his whereabouts when he turns 18, she said.

She said a “concrete plan” is needed to guarantee the teen’s supervision.

Nkurunziza’s parents, who sat with him in court Tuesday, accompanied by a Lingala interpreter, were given documents to sign allowing a juvenile caseworker at the Maine Department of Corrections permission to speak with them and inspect their home for his possible return there or to another place equipped to take custody of the teen.

Lobozzo said his client had never been to court before his arrest earlier this month. He said the circumstances surrounding the melee, involving at least 35 people, took investigators months to try to sort out. They didn’t speak with the person who identified Nkurunziza as having thrown the rock that hit Giusti until December, he said.

“Figuring out who threw what at whom was obviously a challenge,” Lobozzo said. “And now the state’s case hangs by the thinnest threads on statements gathered a full six months after the incident,” he said.

Zainea took issue with that statement, arguing that investigators had evidence that Nkurunziza had thrown the rock, but they had needed more time to determine whether that same rock had struck Giusti, causing him to fall.

Meanwhile, Nkurunziza had remained in the community “with a routine, going about his life, co-existing in the downtown area, presumably knowing full well there was an investigation underway.”

Born in a Rwandan refugee camp, the teen emigrated to the United States three years ago to begin ninth grade at Lewiston High School. Since then, he’s learned English and “gathered a community of friends and family,” Lobozzo said.

If released to the custody of his parents, the teen would be “very much on the radar of local law enforcement,” living just a block from the city’s police station and would be subject to a curfew, Lobozzo said.

Because he’s never been in trouble with the law before his arrest, he poses a “very good risk for release,” Lobozzo said. Had he sought to flee, he would have had “ample opportunity to do so” since last June, Lobozzo said. He pointed to the roughly dozen friends and family in the courtroom as evidence that Nkurunziza has a support group that would ensure his supervision and future court appearances.

But Judge Lawrence sided with prosecutors, citing the seriousness of the charge. He said a plan is needed with conditions that would guarantee Nkurunziza’s future court appearances while protecting anyone in the community from risk of physical harm before the teen could be released from detention.

Brian Thompson, the father of Donald Giusti, kisses is wife, Maryann Thompson, outside 8th District Court in Lewiston where the teen who is accused of killing Giusti appeared Tuesday at a detention hearing. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Zainea filed a motion with the court to have Nkurunziza tried as an adult. The Class A adult charge of manslaughter is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. That motion could be taken up at a June court date. Lawrence set a May 30 court date for another detention hearing.

Looking on in the courtroom Tuesday were Gisuti’s father, Brian Thompson, and stepmother, Maryann Thompson.

Brian Thompson said afterward that he was pleased with the judge’s decision to keep Nkurunziza detained.

Thompson said it’s important to Giusti’s family that the teen be tried as an adult. He said he plans to forgive the teen at some point in the future for what he is accused of doing to Thompson’s son.

If Nkurunziza were to testify that he threw a rock but didn’t mean to hurt anyone, Thompson said, “I would accept that, because he’s being honest. And that’s all we ask for.”

Maryann Thompson said a one-year anniversary vigil in Kennedy Park is planned for her stepson.

“We ask that people bring their candles. No trouble. No violence. No nothing,” she said. “I hope that we can stop the violence in Lewiston. We can get the answers that we need. Do it the right way. No violence.”

A medical examiner determined the cause of Giusti’s death to be blunt-force trauma that included two “significant areas” of trauma to Giusti’s head and brain. Deputy Medical Examiner Lisa Funte also noticed a “patterned injury” on Giusti’s left shoulder, a broken clavicle and a fracture to one of his left rear ribs, according to the autopsy report.

Police secured a search warrant for a videotape of the June 12 melee that showed a man throwing a rock that struck a man identified as Giusti. Nkurunziza later told police he had “thrown a rock towards a group of people during the fight,” and was told afterward the rock had struck Giusti in the head, according to a police affidavit.

A witness identified for police not only a person who kicked Giusti in the area where he had suffered a broken clavicle, but also a person — Pierre Mousafiri — who kicked Giusti in the area of his rib cage where he suffered a fracture, according to the affidavit.

Mousafiri also identified Nkurunziza in video footage and told police he had thrown a rock that hit Giusti while he was standing. He said Nkurunziza had thrown a second rock while Giusti was lying down.

Mousafiri, 23, of Lewiston was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault and taken to the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn. He was released on $500 bail with a June court date. The crime is punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

Mousafiri told a police detective he had kicked Giusti while he was lying in the street, identifying himself in the video and another person who was shown kicking Giusti in the clavicle.

A witness had told police he had seen 30 Somali and Congolese people fighting 15 white people at Knox and Spruce streets on the night of June 12. Seven police officers arrived at the scene at about 10:45 p.m., while the fight was in progress.

Most of the people who were involved in the fight fled when police arrived and spoke with some of the witnesses. One of the officers had found Giusti lying in Knox Street and bleeding from a head wound. He was able to identify Giusti. A rock that had apparently struck him was lying next to his left leg, according to the affidavit.

One witness, who videotaped part of the fight, told police a “white guy” had been running backward and had stumbled. After righting himself, “he was struck in the head with a brick, which caused him to fall to the ground.”

“After he fell, the Somali and Congolese group ‘stomped’ him for about 10 seconds, before they took off running,” Maine State Police Detective John L. Kyle II wrote in an affidavit.

That witness said several people were armed with sticks, BB guns and a bat.

Authorities said the arrests were the culmination of several months of investigation, which included multiple interviews, a thorough review of physical and electronic evidence seized in the case and consultations with the Maine Attorney General’s Office, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office and the Juvenile Corrections Office.

The June 12 brawl was said to have been the result of ongoing disputes between the two groups. Witnesses said the groups began fighting on Knox Street after teens in a car drove past the park and shot pellets and BBs at a group gathered there, striking several people.

Several members of the Kennedy Park group, including Giusti, chased the car to Knox Street, Sun Journal sources said.

In the days after the fight, several people insisted the attack on Giusti and his friends had been racially motivated, the result of tensions that had existed in and around the park since the end of winter.

Lewiston police responded to those allegations as the investigation got underway, confirming the group included an ethnic mix.

Police had said the investigation took longer than some because of the sheer number of people involved and because many were juveniles.

 


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