A sign next to a walking path at the Schoodic Education and Research Center in Acadia National Park directs pedestrians to buildings on the former Navy base campus in this July 2022 file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

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ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Portland man accused of killing his girlfriend in Acadia National Park by running her over with his car pleaded not guilty Thursday to the alleged crime.

Raymond N. Lester, 36, is charged with murder for the death of Nicole Mokeme, 35, who was killed as she walked along a paved path at the Schoodic Education & Research Center near Winter Harbor. Lester is accused of running her over on the night of June 18, driving away and eventually fleeing to Mexico in an attempt to avoid arrest.

Lester was caught in Cancun, Mexico, on July 18. He made his first court appearance in Maine on the murder charge later that month and then was indicted in August.

On Thursday, Lester was arraigned on the murder indictment, entering a not-guilty plea via Zoom from the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth. He was ordered to remain held without bail because of his previous attempt to escape arrest.

Lester is being represented by defense attorneys Steven Juskewitch and Tina Nadeau. The case is being prosecuted by Bud Ellis and Leanne Robbin of the Maine attorney general’s office.

Lester has a criminal history in Maine that stretches back to 2009, according to the Maine State Bureau of Identification. He was convicted that year of domestic violence assault, and faced an identical charge again two years later. The second time, the charge was dismissed as part of a plea deal in which he pled guilty to a separate charge of criminal mischief.

Other convictions on Lester’s record include violating a protection order, theft, violating probation, misuse of identification, assault, disorderly conduct, and refusing to submit. Overall, he has 13 criminal convictions between 2009 and 2018.

According to court documents, Lester had accompanied Mokeme while she was leading the weeklong Black Excellence Retreat at the former Navy base at Schoodic Point. Mokeme, a South Portland resident, was the founder of Rise And Shine Youth Retreat, a nonprofit group that sought to promote “the enrichment and liberation of Black people in Maine and beyond,” according to the group’s website.

On the evening of June 18, attendees were hanging out at a fire pit outside the center’s bunkhouse where they were staying while Lester sat nearby in his black 2016 BMW X3, police wrote in the documents.

“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,” police wrote.

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

Two witnesses at the retreat told police that Mokeme and Lester had a troubled relationship. Another friend, who was not at the retreat, told police that Lester “was known to be very jealous and abusive” and had a prior history of abusive behavior toward Mokeme, both in public and in private.

One witness told police that Lester said at the retreat that 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 police. Tire tracks indicated someone had driven from a nearby parking lot, across a road, down the walking path and then into some trees next to where Mokeme was found.

Pieces of black plastic that appeared to have fallen off a vehicle also were found around Mokeme’s body, according to the police.

Lester had left the park, but police were able to use electronic license plate readers to determine the vehicle passed through Holden at 12:55 a.m. on June 19 and, in the days that followed, through Canton, Massachusetts; Georgia and then Texas.

The court documents do not say how authorities found out that Lester was in Mexico, or whether his SUV also has been found since his arrest.

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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....