Jonathan Burt listens to Justice MaryGay Kennedy during his hearing in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland on Tuesday. Burt pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Celestin Muhizi in 2020. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A Lisbon man pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Cumberland County Superior Court on Tuesday for killing a 76-year-old man when he crashed his car into a bleacher at a youth baseball game in Deering Oaks in 2020.

Jonathan Burt, 31, will serve 4 ½ years of a 15-year suspended sentence for the death of Celestin Muhizi. Burt also was given four years of probation. If he violates any of the terms of his release – by substance use or driving, for example – he will return to state prison to serve the full 15-year sentence.

Celestin Muhizi

“Mr. Burt would like the family to know that he is remorseful and that he is truly sorry,” Erik Paulsen, one of Burt’s two attorneys, said on Tuesday.

Burt did not address the court other than to respond to various questions from Superior Justice MaryGay Kennedy, ensuring that he agreed to waive his rights to a jury trial and that he was not pleading under any threats or false promises. He also pleaded guilty to charges of operating under the influence and reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon.

Assistant District Attorney Nicole Albert said in court Tuesday that the sentence was the result of a plea agreement both parties reached during a settlement conference beforehand. During that conference, attorneys on both sides said the parties considered a diverse group of example sentences from similar cases.

“There is a vast range, from people who didn’t go to prison at all to people who went to prison for a lengthier time,” Albert said. “These are all fact-specific cases. That was something that weighed heavily in creating this (plea deal).”


“I do agree with that, your honor,” Paulsen said. “It’s his intention to live a law-abiding life. (There’s) an opportunity to engage in rehabilitative services, as part of his probation. Taking all of that into account, this is an appropriate sentence, your honor.”

On the evening of July 26, 2020, a Cumberland County Sheriff’s deputy was driving home from work when he noticed a black Hyundai Sonata, driving fast and in the wrong direction down a one-way street in Portland. As the deputy turned to follow the car, he saw it veer off the road and crash into the bleachers of a baseball game in Deering Oaks.

The car hit Muhizi, tossing him into the air, and then continued into a play area where no children were playing.

Law enforcement responding to the incident, including an off-duty state trooper who was on-site because his child was playing for the one of the teams, reported that Burt and a passenger appeared to be experiencing opioid overdoses. Officers administered two doses of Narcan to Burt.

Most of the people sitting in the bleachers that Burt crashed into were able to move in time to avoid getting hit, Albert said Tuesday.

Muhizi was not.


A father of nine, Muhizi was a husband, a grandfather, a long-time primary school teacher and a well-known member of Portland’s Rwandan community. He had survived the Rwandan genocide of 1994, during the Rwandan civil war.

He had just moved to the United States to live closer to one of his sons after attending his grandson’s baptism in May 2019. His son Jules Evase Mutoni told the Press Herald in 2020 that his father applied to live in the United States soon after that event. Mutoni’s parents’ petitions for permanent residency were approved the same month that Muhizi died – in a park where he often enjoyed walking, reading books and watching sporting events.

“Which is what brought him to Deering Oaks that day,” Albert said. “To watch the baseball game.”

On the day of the crash, Muhizi had walked from his home, in the nearby Parkside neighborhood.

Albert said Tuesday that seven of Muhizi’s nine children had sent victim impact statements to the court, “ranging from a paragraph to a page or two.” His widow, Cesalie Nyirandenge, told Kennedy on Tuesday that most of Muhizi’s children have not been able to visit the United States and see where their father is buried.

Nyirandenge addressed Kennedy and the court through a French translator.


“Your Honor, I’d like to request some type of compensation to the family, for our loss,” she said. “And also, to see if there’d be any way for our other children, who didn’t get a chance to come and say goodbye to their father, (to see) if you can help them come and see where they put the body. … My husband was a really humble man, and he was very loved.”

Kennedy explained that this was not her role.

“You can tell any person that you speak to that this court is completely supportive of any effort to obtain a visa for your family to be able to come into this country,” Kennedy said. “Regrettably, I have no authority to get the visa, or do anything, that way.”

Kennedy suggested the family look into the state’s victims compensation fund, available through the state attorney general’s office and funded by fines imposed on people convicted in state courts.

In addition to fines and time, Burt’s sentence includes a lifelong suspension of his driver’s license. He must wait at least 10 years after getting out of prison to appeal that suspension.

In his responses to Kennedy, Burt and his attorneys indicated Tuesday that he is in recovery from substance use disorder. He must maintain that recovery, and be subjected to random drug tests, during his probation period.

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