A jury found a Portland man guilty of murder Monday in the June 2022 hit-and-run killing of his girlfriend in Acadia National Park.
The jury deliberated for nearly two hours before deciding that Raymond Lester, 37, had intentionally run down Nicole Mokeme during a retreat at the Schoodic Institute, located on the opposite side of Frenchman Bay from Mount Desert Island.
With the guilty verdict, Lester, 37, now is convicted of killing Mokeme during a June 2022 retreat for Black people at the Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park. Lester, who was dating Mokeme, 35, of South Portland, ran her over a few minutes before midnight on June 18, 2022 with his car and then fled to Mexico where he turned himself in a month later, according to police.
“It’s bittersweet,” Mokeme’s mother, Stephanie Kornegay, said outside the courthouse about the guilty verdict. “I’ve known this whole time that it was him who was driving that vehicle. I’ve known this whole time he intentionally killed my daughter.”
Kornegay said she “didn’t care for” Lester when he was dating her daughter, but that she was unaware of his prior abusive behavior. Testimony about Lester’s past incidents, prior to the retreat, was not presented to the jury at the trial, but former girlfriends of Lester told the Portland Press Herald he was physically abusive to them before they ended their relationships with him.
“I had no idea,” Kornegay said. “Unfortunately, women in abusive situations tend to hide it and protect the abuser.”
Oscar Mokeme, Nicole’s father, said that his daughter was carrying on a family tradition of empowering and mentoring young people as the founder and creative director of Rise and Shine Youth Retreat. The group’s mission is “to foster meaningful relationships between Black people and nature through cooperative living, wellness retreats, residences, and outdoor exploration/celebration,” according to the group’s website.
Mokeme said his daughter gave her life while trying to fulfill her calling of helping other people.
“You can see that the light has conquered the darkness,” Oscar Mokeme said. “I thank God and I want to thank our community of Portland, Maine, and the attorney general’s office. I don’t know what kind of healing will take place, but I think we have to try to move forward.”
Kornegay said she is looking forward to seeing her 12-year-old granddaughter, Nicole’s daughter, to tell her Lester has been convicted.
She said that her daughter’s dream was to help people and that she hopes her daughter’s story will prove helpful to others.
“It’s not enough because I still don’t have my daughter,” Kornegay said of Lester’s conviction. “But it’s something, and I know the right decision was made today.”
Attendees at the retreat, which had been organized by Mokeme, testified last week that Lester was acting inappropriately, aggressively and abusively toward Mokeme in the days and hours before Mokeme died. One couple testified that they and their daughter were scared Lester might run them over as he zoomed back and forth where a walking pathway crosses a road on the Schoodic campus.
Lester verbally abused her during a kayak trip, drove his car aggressively and dangerously near retreat attendees during a cookout on Saturday, and blared inappropriate music with violent lyrics from the car stereo while children were nearby, prosecutors said. When some went to talk to him about his behavior, he pointed his fingers at them like a gun and loudly said “boom boom boom” over the lyrics of the song, witnesses testified.
Prosecutors rested their case Friday afternoon, after three days of calling other retreat attendees and police investigators to the witness stand to testify about what they observed in the hours leading up to Mokeme’s death, or what sort of evidence they collected after she was killed. Mokeme died of blunt force trauma consistent with having been run over by a vehicle, according to the state medical examiner’s office.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed with the verdict,” Will Ashe, one of Lester’s defense attorneys, said Monday after Lester was taken back to jail. “We thought there were significant problems with the investigation and that there were a lot of reasonable doubts in this case.”
Ashe said he, co-defense counsel Caitlyn Smith and Lester will consider whether to file an appeal of the conviction. A sentencing for Lester likely will be scheduled for sometime in mid-January, he said.
Bud Ellis, who prosecuted the case with Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, said that the guilty verdict was “very gratifying.” He said it was a case mostly of circumstantial evidence, as there were no witnesses who saw Mokeme get killed, but that Lester’s behavior before and after her body was found made him the obvious suspect.
“We thought there were a lot of circumstances that pointed to the guilt of Mr. Lester,” Ellis said. “There were many, many credibly suspect actions he took — the build-up to the crime, what he did after the crime — that in our opinion pointed the finger directly at him.”