Nov. 3—Prosecutors say they don't know where the car is and that they believe Raymond Lester used to kill Nicole Mokeme in June 2022.
But on the third day of Lester's trial in Hancock County Superior Court, they shared what they do have — pictures of his car leaving the area less than an hour after they believe Mokeme was killed, and cell phone data suggesting Lester fled the state that day and ditched his phone at a Walmart in Rhode Island, all while his family and Mokeme's friends were desperately trying to get in touch to find out where he was.
Lester, 37, was charged with knowing or intentional murder on June 21, 2022, about a week after Mokeme's body was found on a paved walking path at the Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park, where both were attending a retreat Mokeme had helped organize.
Mokeme led several events and organizations focused on connecting Black, brown, and Indigenous people with nature. She talked about her work and her love for the outdoors with the Portland Press Herald in 2020, when she was featured as a Mainer to be Thankful For.
Prosecutors allege Lester struck and killed Mokeme late on the night of June 18, 2022, after driving dangerously around the park earlier that night, drinking vodka straight from a bottle, and playing a song with "violent" lyrics on repeat.
It took police roughly a month to find Lester after Mokeme's death. He was arrested in Cancun, Mexico on July 19, when he turned himself in at a local police station, according to both prosecutors and his defense. Lester arrived in Maine and was booked at the Hancock County Jail more than a week later.
He pleaded not guilty in October 2022.
Assistant Attorneys General Leanne Robbin and Bud Ellis rested their case Friday afternoon. Jurors are scheduled to return Monday at 9:30 a.m.
Lester's attorneys have said testimony regarding their client's alleged flight south and his odd behavior before Mokeme's death are all speculative attempts to "muddy the waters."
Of all the witnesses Robbin and Ellis called, no one saw Lester hit Mokeme.
Lester's attorney William Ashe asked police why they were so quick to identify Lester, Mokeme's former boyfriend, as a suspect. Ashe asked why police identified no other person of interest, even though there were several people at the retreat who refused to speak with officers. Ashe said pictures of Lester's car after Mokeme's death showed no damage.
"It is not enough for the state to present a plausible story or a best guess about what happened," Lester's attorney Caitlyn Smith said during opening statements Wednesday. "You will not hear from one witness who will say they saw Raymond hit Nicole with a car. In fact, you will not hear from one witness who saw anything happen to Nicole."
CELL PHONE DATA AND LICENSE PLATE READERS
The state called on several Maine State Police detectives Friday who described their efforts to locate Lester last summer. Using cell phone tracking technology, police were able to follow Lester's phone signal from Maine to Warwick, Rhode Island, over the course of several hours.
Detective Cpl. Andrew Peirson testified Friday that as Lester's phone continued traveling south through Massachusetts, cell phone records show Lester's family and Mokeme's friends from the retreat were calling and texting him.
"Peace, Ray," one person texted earlier that day, according to Peirson. "Are you with Nicole?"
"No, I'm not," Lester responded. "I'm not sure where she is."
Shortly before 5 p.m. on June 19, 2022, Lester's phone stopped in Warwick, where, Peirson said, Lester traded in his phone at an "ecoATM" station at Walmart. Peirson showed the jury photos the ATM took of Lester and a copy of his Maine driver's license he had to submit.
Primary Detective Dana Austin from Maine State Police said police had received images of Lester's BMW plates driving through Georgia and Texas on June 20 and June 21.
After Lester was returned to Maine late in July, Austin said the two met so he could interview Lester and get a DNA sample. Prosecutors played some of Austin's interview with Lester Friday.
"I'm just curious. How did Nicole die?" Lester can be heard asking. "What's her cause of death?"
On Sept. 6, 2022, Austin said Lester wrote a letter to CarMax South Portland, where he had bought his SUV that May. Lester told the store his car had been stolen, according to the letter, and he wanted to cancel his payment plan.
LESTER THE ONLY SUSPECT
Austin testified Friday he considered Lester a prime suspect after talking to Mokeme's longtime friend Hannah Naji, who was also at the retreat on June 19, 2022. Naji mentioned Lester was nowhere to be found, Austin said.
Ashe pressed Austin on this Friday. He referenced testimony from other officers, who said as many as 30 other people had refused to speak with police that day. Ashe also asked why police didn't ask the public to look for any damaged vehicle, rather than just Lester and his car.
"Did you have any concern at that point that someone else may have been involved in that accident?" Ashe asked at one point.
No, Austin said, "because the investigation had led us toward Mr. Lester."