Raymond Lester, a Portland man on trial for murder in the hit-and-run death of his girlfriend at Acadia National Park, chose not to testify Monday in his own defense.
His attorneys declined to call any witnesses. Prosecutors rested their case Friday.
Following closing arguments on Monday morning, the jury began its deliberations a few minutes before noon to determine whether Lester is guilty of murdering Nicole Mokeme.
Lester, 37, is accused 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 around midnight on June 18, 2022, and then fled to Mexico where he turned himself in a month later, according to police.
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.
Testimony about Lester’s past behavior, prior to the retreat, was not presented to the jury at the trial, but past girlfriends of Lester told the Portland Press Herald he was physically abusive to them before they ended their relationships with him.
Robert “Bud” Ellis, an assistant attorney general and one of two prosecutors in the trial, showed the jury photos of Mokeme lying dead in the pathway while presenting closing arguments.
Ellis said that Lester’s behavior that night, and the fact that he left abruptly after midnight and in the coming days traded in his cellphone in Rhode Island and drove to Texas, show “consciousness of guilt.” He fled the scene, leaving his personal belongings behind, and offered little response and then none at all when others at the retreat tried to contact him to find out what happened to Mokeme.
“Who else was there? Who else would have done this?” Ellis said to the jury, saying that there is no other evidence that points to anyone else. “He was getting out of there after he murdered her.”
Will Ashe, a defense attorney for Lester, told the jury that police didn’t adequately consider whether there could be other suspects. They did not interview all witnesses in the days that followed Mokeme’s death, or try to see if other vehicles besides Lester’s car could have run her over.
Ashe also said that a photo of Lester’s car that was taken later by an automatic roadside camera doesn’t show any damage to the car – which police never recovered.
“How is that possible?” Ashe said. “They focused on Raymond Lester from day one.”
Ashe said that Lester’s behavior before Mokeme was found dead does not reflect well on his client, but it does not indicate that he must have killed her.
“Does that show murderous intent, because they argued in a kayak?” Ashe said, referring to an incident that one witness described to the jury. “He was presumed guilty from the beginning. It was a poor investigation.”