SALEM — If anyone ought to know and appreciate the need for an honest and impartial judicial system, it would be the son of a man taken as a political prisoner in his native country, a judge and a prosecutor suggested yesterday.
But Jonathan Ngarambe, 23, of 10 First St., Salem, admitted yesterday that he had tried to get onto a jury hearing a gang rape case in March by lying to a judge about whether he knew anyone involved in the case.
It turns out that Ngarambe was a classmate of three of the four defendants, as well as the victim, before he dropped out of Salem High School three months before the end of his senior year. But when asked repeatedly by Judge John Lu whether he knew anyone involved in the case, Ngarambe insisted he did not.
Even as he was being arraigned on charges of perjury last spring, he remained Facebook friends with one of the defendants. And a prosecutor said yesterday that Ngarambe had also contacted the victim before the trial.
Yesterday, Ngarambe was sentenced to two years in jail, to be followed by two years’ probation, after pleading guilty to perjury and misleading a judge.
“I cannot even imagine the impact on a family of having a father taken as a political prisoner and being ripped from his home without the opportunity for a trial,” Judge David Lowy remarked.
“Then you come to the United States, to these shores, yearning to breathe free,” Lowy said. “People have died in countless wars, who have, as Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, given the last full measure of devotion, so we can have a trial and see if the government can meet its substantial burden of proof.
“No one should have understood that better than you, after what happened to your family in the Congo.”
Defense lawyer John Apruzzese described how Ngarambe’s family ended up in a Red Cross refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after his father, a member of the Tutsi tribe, was held by the government as a political prisoner.
The family came to the United States in 2000, under a refugee resettlement program. At the time, the Tutsi tribe was the target of a campaign of genocide in that part of Africa.
Accompanying Ngarambe, his mother and aunt to court yesterday were two American women, the Rev. Ann Abernethy, a retired minister, and Jean Jones, a family friend.
Apruzzese told the judge that Ngarambe has expressed remorse since the day he was appointed to represent him in July.
Prosecutor A.J. Camelio, who had urged Lowy to send Ngarambe to prison for three to five years, told the judge that not only was the trial Ngarambe was attempting to corrupt “an extraordinarily serious case,” but that his crimes went to the core of justice.
Without impartial jurors, the prosecutor said, “we cannot have fair trials or a system of justice that can be trusted.”
“As a prosecutor, I might be frustrated with the outcome of a case, but I’ve never had a doubt that the jurors have been fair and impartial in reaching their verdict,” Camelio said.
In deciding on a lower sentence of two years in jail, the judge said he took into account that Ngarambe may not have realized the seriousness of his actions. He also noted that Ngarambe has no prior record.
During his probation, Ngarambe will be required to complete a high school equivalency degree, attend school or work, and perform 250 hours of community service.
The charges could have carried a total of up to 30 years in prison.
Three of the defendants in the gang rape trial pleaded guilty; a fourth was convicted following a trial where Ngarambe could have ended up on the jury but for a prosecutor learning that he had been seen in the lobby of the courthouse saying hello to the suspect.
“A trial before a fair and impartial jury is one of the fundamental principles of our democracy,” District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said in a press release issued yesterday.
“Had this young man succeeded in getting on this jury, it would have represented a serious miscarriage of justice for the victim of a horrific rape. This sentence sends a strong message that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated.”
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.