AUGUSTA — The trial for a former Lewiston man charged with manslaughter in the 2018 death of 30-year-old Donald Giusti in Lewiston likely will be held next fall in Portland or Augusta.

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, left, sits with his lawyer, Allan Lobozzo, at Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland in November 2019. Sun Journal file photo

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, 18, of Biddeford was in Kennebec County Superior Court on Monday for a bail hearing. But Justice Michaela Murphy took the opportunity to rule on a motion by the defense seeking to move the teenager’s trial out of Androscoggin County due to publicity.

In a motion filed last year in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn, Nkurunziza, through his attorneys, argued that media coverage of his case had lessened the likelihood of finding an impartial jury in the Twin Cities area.

“These allegations took place in the Kennedy Park neighborhood of Lewiston, just steps away from the so-called “tree streets” and the basilica, the historic and cultural center of Lewiston, an area from which hail numerous local families with deep roots,” defense attorney Allan Lobozzo wrote in the motion. “Thus, this incident resonates with many individuals with close family histories in downtown Lewiston.”

Lobozzo cited at least a dozen articles published in the Sun Journal since Nkurunziza was arrested and charged as a juvenile on April 12, 2019.

“Of course, the Lewiston Sun Journal articles represent just a fraction of the total media coverage. Local television stations broadcasted stories each and every time the newspaper ran an article,” he said.

Lawyers from the Maine Attorney General’s Office who are prosecuting the case said Monday they didn’t object to moving the trial from Auburn as long as it was to a neighboring county so that a large number of civilian witnesses wouldn’t have to travel too far.

“We would be glad to accommodate the trial here,” Justice Murphy said. Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland also is an option.

She said the latter two weeks of October might be available for the trial, which is estimated to take up to two weeks, including jury selection. Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said her case likely would take roughly a week to present.

In separate motions filed earlier this year, prosecutors were seeking to revoke Nkurunziza’s bail, claiming he had failed to report to a supervisor at Maine Pretrial Services on two occasions, once in November and again in January.

Defense attorneys had filed a motion seeking to loosen his bail restrictions, including removal of an electronic ankle monitor, citing difficulties with charging the device while sleeping and in school. The conspicuous device also has made it difficult for him to apply for jobs, his lawyers argued.

On Monday, Nkurunziza admitted to having missed two weekly check-in dates over the past four months.

Zainea said Nkurunziza’s supervisor at Maine Pretrial Services said the defendant “is doing well on reporting” despite those two lapses. Zainea asked the judge to keep in place the same bail conditions for Nkurunziza, including electronic monitoring.

Defense attorney Allan Lobozzo withdrew his motion to amend his client’s bail conditions.

Nkurunziza attends public high school in Biddeford where he lives with his family after they moved from Lewiston last year. Nkurunziza’s parents had lived in downtown Lewiston, close to Giusti’s family, before moving to Biddeford.

A District Court judge had been reluctant last summer to release the teen into his parents’ custody at that location, citing concerns for his and the community’s safety.

But in October, Justice Murphy ruled that the teen be allowed to live with his parents in an apartment in Biddeford where he must continue to be supervised by an independent agency, wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and be confined to house arrest. Those conditions will continue.

Murphy said Monday that the court may revisit bail conditions once the school year has ended.

Before the trial, Murphy said she planned to hold a hearing on the defense’s motion to suppress statements made by Nkurunziza to investigators.

Nkurunziza was arrested in April 2019 and charged with manslaughter as a juvenile. An 8th District Court judge heard arguments in July whether the teen should be bound over from juvenile to adult court, ruling in September that he should be tried as an adult.

A grand jury indicted him in November 2019 on charges of manslaughter and aggravated assault.

Nkurunziza turned 17 about a month before the June 12, 2018, nighttime melee on Knox Street when Giusti was apparently struck by a rock and knocked to the pavement. He died three days later from blunt-force trauma to his head and torso, according to a medical examiner. Witnesses said a group of largely Somali youth clashed that night with more than a dozen white men, including Giusti, who had congregated in Kennedy Park.

Police said Nkurunziza admitted to having thrown a rock but hadn’t seen where it landed. A witness has said he saw Nkurunziza throw the rock and saw it hit Giusti on the head. Two police officers who viewed videos of the scene that night identified Nkurunziza as the person who threw an object that appeared to have felled Giusti.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.