LEWISTON — A judge ruled Tuesday that a local teen charged with manslaughter in the 2018 death of 38-year-old Donald Giusti will be bound over on the charge from juvenile to adult court.

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, 18, sits in 8th District Court in Lewiston next to his mother, Agnes Nyirafishi, as they listen to arguments for his release into the custody of his parents in July. Nkurunziza is charged in the death last summer of Donald Giusti in a brawl that started at Kennedy Park. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, 18, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. As a juvenile, he could have been detained until he turned 21 or completed his juvenile program.

In his 19-page order, Judge Rick Lawrence found that prosecutors were able to show there was probable cause that Nkurunziza had committed manslaughter when he allegedly threw a rock that hit Giusti in the head on Knox Street on the night of June 12, 2018.

As for whether Nkurunziza should be tried as a juvenile or adult, Lawrence wrote: “After a consideration of the seriousness of the crime, the characteristics of the juvenile, public safety and the dispositional alternatives … Mr. Nkurunziza has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that it is not appropriate to prosecute him as an adult,” Lawrence wrote.

His order means that the jurisdiction of the juvenile court in Nkurunziza’s case will be waived and it should be presented instead to a grand jury for possible indictment.

Defense attorney Allan Lobozzo reacted to the judge’s order, saying, “We intend on fighting this case in front of a jury.”

He said his client will file a motion seeking a change of venue.

Giusti’s father, Brian Thompson, said Wednesday that his family is happy that “the judge made the right decision.”

Thompson had feared that had Nkurunziza been tried as a juvenile, “we won’t get the justice that we would with the higher court.”

Giusti, of Lewiston, was apparently struck by a rock and knocked to the pavement during a brawl on Knox Street near Kennedy Park on June 12, 2018, police said. 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 youths clashed that night around 10:30 p.m. with more than a dozen white men who had congregated in Kennedy Park.

Lawrence held a three-day hearing in 8th District Court starting July 29 during which prosecutors presented evidence that there was probable cause to support a manslaughter charge against Nkurunziza. The defense presented evidence showing why he should remain in juvenile court on the charge. Prosecutors had filed a motion in April seeking to have him bound over from the juvenile court as an adult.

On the final day of hearings, Nkurunziza was released from Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn into the custody of a couple at their home more than 20 miles from Lewiston. He has been confined there under house arrest with electronic monitoring by the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department.

The couple are friends of his family through church. His parents, who live two doors down from Giusti’s family, have applied for housing farther from the victim’s family in hopes that their son can join them there in the future.

In his Tuesday order, Lawrence wrote that Nkurunziza told police he threw a rock at Giusti in revenge for someone having earlier hurt him for no reason, injuring his shoulder. A video shows someone police identified as Nkurunziza throwing a rock at Giusti. A medical examiner testified that it was likely Giusti had been struck on the left side of his face, which knocked him down to the asphalt, hitting his head on the sidewalk and causing bleeding inside his skull.

“If it were not for Mr. Nkurunziza throwing the rock and striking Mr. Giusti on the left side of his face and neck, he would not have fallen, causing the right and back side of his head to impact the ground and thereby cause intercranial hemorrhaging that resulted in Mr. Giusti’s death,” Lawrence wrote.

Once Giusti’s motionless body was lying in the street, Nkurunziza picked up the rock he’d thrown earlier and flung it again, striking Giusti in the lower back and buttocks area, Lawrence wrote.

By all accounts, those who knew Nkurunziza at the time of the Knox Street incident reported they’d known him to be a “polite, soft-spoken, shy young man with no history of behavioral issues who seems to be more of a child than a man,” Lawrence wrote.

Similar sentiments came from members of Nkurunziza’s church as well as his former high school principal and other school staff.

He had no history of substance abuse nor mental health issues.

Born in a Rwandan refugee camp, Nkurunziza came to this country three years ago, living with his parents and five siblings.

A psychologist who was ordered by the court to examine Nkurunziza described the teen as shy, polite and respectful, with a sense of humor.

Because of his limited language skills, Nkurunziza would hold back his feelings and become frustrated, Peter Donnelly testified at the hearing.

He said he met with Nkurunziza three times and carried out testing.

But Lawrence wrote in his order that Donnelly “either did not watch or did not rely upon any of the videos taken” on the night of the incident. “Nor does it appear that he reviewed the audio or video of interviews (by police) of Mr. Nkurunziza.”

Donnelly also didn’t appear to give much weight to Nkurunziza’s many unexcused school absences nor the fact that he apparently had stopped attending school and church services altogether in January, months before his arrest.

Lawrence pointed to three incidents involving Nkurunziza during his time in detention at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland after his arrest “for breaking a shelf in his residential unit; one for a mutual fight with another resident; and one for an assault of another resident that resulted in a misdemeanor charge because Nkurunziza had turned 18 at the time.

Donnelly had noted that Nkurunziza had difficulty knowing how to argue with peers, lacking the necessary English language skills. That would cause his anger and frustration to built up and eventually spill out, Lawrence wrote.

In the case of the incident in which Nkurunziza assaulted another resident at the youth center, the victim had allegedly been provoking him with racial slurs communicated through an air vent.

“Even if Mr. Nkurunziza was taunted by another resident’s use of racial slurs, that did not give him leave to address the situation violently,” Lawrence wrote.

On the issue of Nkurunziza’s characteristics, one of the elements considered for binding him over as an adult, Lawrence wrote “the decision on this factor is a close one,” but he concluded the defendant hadn’t demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that trying him as an adult wasn’t appropriate due to his pattern of having trouble adjusting to his environment, becoming frustrated and angry to the point where he erupted in violence.

Although Donnelly concluded there was little evidence to suggest that Nkurunziza posed a risk to public safety, Lawrence wrote that the psychologist hadn’t considered all of the information about the teen available to him and, for that reason, Donnelly’s assessment “may not be entirely accurate.”

Lawrence wrote that he was “particularly troubled” by the fact that Nkurunziza had thrown the rock a second time at Giusti after he was lying on the pavement, not posing a threat.

“This second rock throwing shifts the court’s view of the events of June 12, 2018, from an unfortunate, ill-conceived, “in the moment” deviation from appropriate behavior to a disquieting manifestation of anti-social behavior,” Lawrence wrote.

He considered the possible avenues available to the court in treating a convicted juvenile, but wrote that he is concerned that Nkurunziza’s “development of the necessary coping skills to deal with his repressed anger issue will require more than educational and vocational direction” and “likely will take more than a year,” of probation. Nkurunziza will need more than a 24- to 28-month commitment to a juvenile facility to provide an “effective incentive” for him to comply with “conditions aimed at developing his coping skills/managing his anger issues.”

The alternatives available in juvenile court are “inadequate when compared to the gravity of the offense and the magnitude of the effort to best address the problems that contributed to that offense,” Lawrence wrote.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: