Portland man accused of killing girlfriend is back in Maine, in court

·4 min read

Jul. 27—The Portland man charged with murder in the death of his girlfriend in a hit-and-run in Acadia National Park made his first appearance in a Maine court on Wednesday.

The U.S. Marshals Service escorted Raymond Lester on a flight from Chicago to Maine on Tuesday, nearly a week after members of its Violent Offenders Task Force arrested him in Cancun, Mexico. He is accused of killing Nicole Mokeme, 35, of South Portland.

Lester, 35, was booked at the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth on Tuesday evening.

Two court-appointed attorneys represented Lester during Wednesday's Zoom hearing — Steve Juskewitch, working in Hancock County, and Tina Nadeau in Portland.

"It makes a lot of sense for co-counsel in this case, because many of the witnesses are in Portland where Ms. Nadeau is practicing, but the event and significant witnesses are here in Hancock County, where I practice," Juskewitch said.

Lester was charged with murder last month. State police say that he struck and killed Mokeme with his BMW SUV during a retreat she had organized at Acadia National Park.

An affidavit from state police, outlining what officers believe happened the night before Mokeme was found dead on June 19, remained sealed from the public on Wednesday. But a federal affidavit from the U.S. Marshals Service details the case and cites numerous witnesses from the retreat who told police that he was drinking and driving erratically that night.

The federal affidavit also details Lester's flight in the SUV from Maine to Texas.

State and federal law enforcement agencies spent nearly a month pursuing Lester before arresting him in Mexico on July 18. They have not released details about where he was held between his arrest and Tuesday, when he was returned to Maine.

On Tuesday, a U.S. District judge agreed to dismiss federal charges against Lester for fleeing the state to avoid prosecution. U.S. Attorney's Office spokesperson Jana Spaulding said Wednesday that the primary purpose of such charges is to assist in locating and apprehending fugitives.

"Through the cooperative efforts of state and federal law enforcement agencies, that was achieved, and Mr. Lester is now in state custody," Spaulding wrote in an email.

Numerous people who were attending the retreat observed Lester's behavior the night of June 18, the federal affidavit states. Witnesses said he was driving "dangerously fast" around the campgrounds, in a "newer-style" black SUV while playing loud music and drinking from a bottle of vodka.

Lester told one witness something to the effect that Mokeme "doesn't like me anymore." At a group dinner around a fire pit the evening before police found Mokeme's body, another witness said Lester "seemed pissed off."

Some people at the retreat told police that Lester had mentioned that he had to leave the next day for work, delivering items in the Portland area. But they said they expected him to return. When police found Mokeme the morning of June 19 but could not locate Lester, they secured a search warrant for the room where the couple had been staying and found personal items of Lester's, including clothing and toiletries, and no evidence that he had come to pack up.

Officers later learned that Lester's SUV had been spotted in Holden, going east on Route 1A, around 12:55 a.m. on June 19. Around 3:50 p.m. that day, the SUV was spotted in Canton, Massachusetts.

Authorities tracked Lester's cellphone, using carrier data, to Warwick, Rhode Island, the next day. Police in Georgia and Texas later tracked the SUV in their states, using license plate readers. It was not clear Wednesday how Lester got from Texas to Cancun.

Lester's criminal record shows a history of domestic violence dating to 2008, when he was charged by Portland police with domestic violence assault. He pleaded guilty, paid a $300 fine and was sentenced to 22 days in jail, according to a statewide criminal history report.

Two women who dated Lester more than 10 years ago detailed a history of abuse in interviews with the Portland Press Herald last month.

Mokeme had been dating Lester for about three years. She was the creative director of the Rise and Shine Youth Retreat, which offers wellness retreats and other programs for Black youths and adults. She helped organize the Black Excellence Retreat 2022 at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor, where she was killed.

The retreat was the second held in collaboration with the institute and was described as "a getaway for Black folks and their friends and families of all backgrounds to join together in community to celebrate Juneteenth, liberation and Black excellence," a post on the retreat's Instagram account said.

It was supposed to run June 14-20 and was designed to give Black youth and adults a laid-back time for outdoor exploration, art and deep rest.