Raymond Lester
Raymond Lester, 35, of Portland. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine Department of Public Safety

A Portland man accused of killing his girlfriend in a hit-and-run in Acadia National Park last month made his first court appearance Wednesday.

Raymond Lester, who has been charged with murder in the death of 35-year-old Nicole Mokeme of South Portland, was booked Tuesday the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth after being transported to Maine from Chicago, according to Shannon Moss, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety. He had been held in Chicago since being arrested July 18 by federal marshals in Cancun, Mexico.

Raymond Lester. Credit: Courtesy of Hancock County Jail

Lester allegedly ran over Mokeme with his 2016 black BMW X3 SUV sometime around midnight  on June 18 or June 19 at the Schoodic Education and Research Center campus at Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park, according to a police affidavit.

On Wednesday, Lester appeared by video conference from the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth, along with defense attorney Steven Juskewitch. Lester is being held without bail but, at the request of Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, Justice Bruce Mallonee said a bail hearing for Lester would be set at a later date, for as soon as it is feasible.

Lester did not enter a plea to the murder charge, and is not expected to do so until after he is indicted by a grand jury, which could occur as early as next month.

Mallonee approved the appointment of Juskewitch and Portland attorney Tina Nadeau co-defense counsel for Lester.

Lester was also facing a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, but that charge was dismissed Tuesday.

Mokeme’s death is the first homicide in Acadia National Park in 35 years.

Lester had been in a three-year relationship with Mokeme, the founder and creative director for Rise and Shine Youth Retreat who was leading a retreat for Black Mainers at the former Navy base campus when she died. Lester was staying with her in a bunkroom at the education center during the weeklong session.

On the evening of June 18, attendees at the retreat were hanging out at a fire pit outside the bunkhouse where they were staying while Lester sat nearby in his SUV, according to police.

“Though it was dark and they could not see who the driver was beyond the fact that he was male, they observed the driver making ‘shooting’ gestures with his fingers toward the group,” Maine State Police wrote in the affidavit.

Other witnesses — none of whom saw Mokeme get run over — said it was Lester who was at the wheel in the black SUV.

One witness told police that Lester said Mokeme “doesn’t like me anymore.” Another said that when the group had dinner on June 18, that Raymond “behaved appallingly,” was “hammered” from over-drinking, “seemed pissed off, and was driving fast in the area with a bottle of vodka.”

Mokeme’s body was found at 6:20 a.m. June 19 on a paved walking path on the Schoodic campus, according to the affidavit. Police found tire tracks leading from a nearby parking lot, across a road and between two trees onto the walking path where Mokeme was found.

Lester was quickly identified as the main suspect and, after a nationwide manhunt, was arrested last week in Cancun. Police said they were able to determine that Lester drove south from Maine to Massachusetts, Georgia and then to Texas, but have not indicated how they determined Lester was in Mexico.

Lester has a history of domestic violence, including four convictions for domestic violence assault and a fifth for violating a protection from abuse order from 2008 to 2011.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that the federal charge of fleeing prosecution was still pending.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....