Emmanuel Nkurunziza, left, and attorney Jesse Archer appear Tuesday in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland. Nkurunziza was pleaded no contest in the manslaughter case involving Donald Giusti in Lewiston in 2018.  Christopher Williams/Sun Journal

PORTLAND — A former Lewiston man pleaded no contest Tuesday to criminal negligence manslaughter in the 2018 death of Donald Giusti near Kennedy Park in Lewiston.

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, now 21, threw a rock during a melee that apparently struck 38-year-old Donald Giusti in the head.

Nkurunziza agreed Tuesday to a 10-year sentence, with all but nine months of that time suspended, after meeting with a judge and prosecutors in Cumberland County Superior Court just prior to what had been scheduled as a hearing on a suppression motion filed by the defendant.

By entering an Alford plea, Nkurunziza agreed that the evidence prosecutors would be able to present at trial could result in a guilty verdict, but Nkurunziza said through an interpreter that he disputes some of the facts prosecutors said they had planned to present.

The judge accepted his plea.

Nkurunziza, who came to this country from a Rwandan refugee camp, would have faced deportation had he pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge that included the element of reckless behavior, one of his attorneys, George Hess, told Justice Michaela Murphy on Tuesday.


Jesse Archer also represented Nkurunziza.

By having prosecutors remove language referencing “reckless” behavior from the manslaughter charge, Nkurunziza is unlikely to face deportation, Hess said. Prosecutors also agreed to dismiss a charge of aggravated assault in the case, as well as a simple assault charge stemming from an altercation while Nkurunziza was incarcerated.

Although he has agreed to serve nine months in jail, Nkurunziza will be credited for the time he served at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, as well as short stints at county jails in Auburn and Portland before he was released on bail with an electronic monitor.

His sentencing has been scheduled for Thursday.

Nkurunziza was arrested in April 2019 and charged with manslaughter as a juvenile.

An 8th District Court judge heard arguments in July 2019 whether the then-teen should be bound over from juvenile to adult court, ruling in September 2019 that he should be tried as an adult.


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

Nkurunziza had 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. 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.

In her recitation of facts she would have presented had the case gone to trial, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea told the judge witnesses would have testified that on the night of June 12, 2018, there were two separate groups of people who had congregated in Kennedy Park.

One of the groups included Giusti; the other, Nkurunziza.


Members of their respective groups had been hit by BBs by someone firing a gun from a moving vehicle.

Giusti believed it was someone in Nkurunziza’s group who had done the shooting, Zainea said.

Giusti and his friends, who were intoxicated, confronted Nkurunziza and his group, according to Zainea.

When Giusti and his friends, who were white, left the park to go to Knox Street, which abuts the park, a large group of largely Somali youth clashed with them.

Someone in Giusti’s group carried a barbell and likely struck Nkurunziza before that group began to retreat because they were outnumbered by the youths, Zainea said.

Investigators recovered various video recordings of the event, including from security cameras on an apartment building on Knox Street as well as from individuals’ cellphones.


Zainea said a teenager dressed in similar clothing that Nkurunziza wore to school that morning could be seen on video throwing a rock in Giusti’s direction. In the next scene on the video, Giusti is pictured on the ground with a large group of people gathered around him. The same person shown having thrown the rock in Giusti’s direction is shown picking up another rock and throwing it at Giusti while he was lying on the ground, Zainea said.

Other youths could be seen kicking at Giusti and stomping on his shoulder, she said.

Police found Giusti lying on he ground, a “significant amount of blood around his head,” she said.

Zainea said police would testify that Nkurunziza told them during an interview at Lewiston Police Department that he was angry that he and his cousin had been assaulted that night unprovoked “and so he threw the rock.”

He told police he didn’t know whether that rock had made contact with Giusti, Zainea said. She said Nkurunziza’s cousin had apparently told him the rock he threw had hit Giusti.

Since he was released on bail, Nkurunziza has been monitored electronically by an ankle bracelet.

After he serves the rest of his sentence in jail, Nkurunziza will be on probation for four years during which time he must not have any contact with Giusti’s family.

Justice Murphy praised the attorneys on both sides for reaching agreement in what she called a “very, very difficult case.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.