The prosecutor in the trial of an Ethiopian accused of taking part in torture and murder during political upheaval in the African nation told jurors Monday that they will hear from some of those who witnessed his blood-thirsty reign at a prison there.
Kefelgn Alemu Worku is charged with coming into the United States illegally. Among the false statements he is accused of making in applying for naturalization is the answer “no” he gave to this question: “Have you ever persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin … or political opinion?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brenda Taylor said.
The stories of those who survived their time at “Higher 15,” the prison in Addis Ababa where he was a guard, will show that he lied, Taylor told jurors on Monday, the first day of Alemu Worku’s trial in U.S. District Court in Denver.
Matthew Golla, the defense attorney for Alemu Worku, also known as John Doe, said he doesn’t doubt that “wicked” things were done in the Ethiopian prison during the late 1970s, a period known as the Red Terror.
“The facts will show that this man had no part in that,” Golla, an assistant federal defender, told jurors. “I think the evidence will show their identifications are suspect.”
One witness will be Samuel Habteab Berhe, who immigrated from East Africa in 1995, Taylor said. When war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Habteab Berhe arranged for his father, who was Eritrean, and four younger siblings to go to Kenya. “But there was a problem,” Taylor said.
His father was ill — mentally and physically — and it was his status as an Eritrean that would make it possible for the family to immigrate to the United States, Taylor said. Habteab Berhe’s brothers and sisters met Alemu Worku, whom they knew as “Tufa,” and enlisted him to act as their father, Habteab Berhe Temanu, during the immigration process.
“His children made an impossible choice and sent their father back to Eritrea,” Taylor said.
He died in 2005.
The family and Alemu Worku came to the U.S. in 2004.
In return for testifying against Alemu Worku, prosecutors have promised that Habteab Berhe and his siblings will not be prosecuted for lying during the immigration process, Taylor said.
Golla said that the evidence will show that Habteab Berhe and his family members “engaged in deceit in order to come to the United States.”
Kiflu Ketema, 58, who spent 18 months at the prison, reported to federal authorities in 2012 that Alemu Worku was living in the U.S., after his brother told him he had seen the parking attendant at the Cozy Cafe, an Aurora restaurant.
When Ketema, who is expected to testify, arrived at the cafe, he spotted Alemu Worku, believed to be in his late 60s, outside the restaurant, he said in a recent interview. His appearance and even his voice had changed little.
When Ketema confronted him, the man denied being Alemu Worku. “He said, “No, maybe it could have been my brother,’ ” Ketema remembered.