By Tom McGhee: Moments after describing the degradation and cold-blooded murder of inmates at an Ethiopian prison, Abebech Demissie looked in the face of the man she called a killer and spoke her mind.
“I’m glad to be here today, I’m glad to face you. You don’t have a gun anymore,” she told Kefelgn Alemu Worku on Thursday after U.S. District Judge John Kane ordered him to face her so she could identify him.
Alemu Worku, who came to the United States in 2004, is charged with falsifying his identity and lying to gain entry to the country.
Prosecutors have presented bone-chilling testimony from Demissie, 53, and other former prisoners to prove that he lied on immigration forms that asked whether he had ever persecuted others because of their political and other beliefs, or participated in harming anyone.
Alemu Worku has admitted lying about his identity, but he denied committing any atrocities.
If convicted he faces 22 years in prison and possible deportation to Ethiopia, where investigators believe he has been sentenced in absentia to hang.
Demissie said she saw Alemu Worku, shoot and kill two teenage boys while she was a prisoner at the “Higher 15” prison in Addis Ababa during the late 1970s.
That same day, he shot another boy in the stomach who remained alive, his stomach bleeding and distended, when he was carried from the room, she said.
Demissie had already witnessed and experienced horrors at the prison, but she said she was not prepared for the murder she saw that night.
“One night, my name was called,” she said. Guards beat her as they chased her to a room in the prison.
Inside the room, several teenage boys stood by a wall. Another lay on his back, blood streaming from his wounds. Alemu Worku sat on a table, a Kalashnikov rifle in hand and another gun beside him, she said.
He ordered guards to “get newspaper, and put it on his wounds and light it on fire,” Demissie said.
The boy yelled, “EPRP will be the winner!” a reference to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party, a political party that opposed the military junta.
She made a low, trilling noise as she described the sound of Alemu Worku’s machine gun drilling bullets into the child’s body. “I was shocked. I thought I would be next.”
A second boy began to plead for his life, crying out that he was an only child. Alemu Worku, who was in charge of the prison, shot him in the stomach, she said. “The boy was begging him even after he has bullet in his stomach. He was sitting right there but enjoying his begging.”
Then he shot a third teen, and when one of the other boys fell down, he ordered him to “drink that blood,” she said.
Like most of her fellow inmates, Demissie was a teenager, only 16, when she was dragged from her mother’s home by armed men and taken to “Higher 15,” at the end of 1977, she said.
At the prison, she was told to strip to her underwear.
Three men, one of them Alemu Worku, tied her hands to her feet, and they took turns beating the soles of her feet and legs as she lay on her chest, she said. “I heard them say, ‘Kefelgn, it is your turn,’ then he would say ‘My hand is tired, it is your turn.'”
In questioning each of six Ethiopian witnesses, all of them now naturalized American citizens, Matthew Golla, Alemu Worku’s federal public defender, asked them to describe what the defendant looked like 36 years ago, questioning their ability to accurately identify him.
“I can’t delete what I have in my memory,” Demissie told him.
Tom McGhee: 303-954-1671, firstname.lastname@example.org