By John R. Ellement Globe Staff,Updated June 20, 2019,6:25 p.m.
Arnaldo “Nardo” Lopes was acquitted of manslaughter by a Boston jury in just 40 minutes Thursday, a verdict that came 23 years and eight months after the death of Robert “Bobby” Mendes on a Dorchester street turned Lopes into a fugitive for 12 years and triggered a civil war in the city’s Cape Verdean community that authorities concluded left 24 people dead. “He’s ecstatic,” Lopes’s defense attorney Derege Demissie said. “He feels that the truth has come out that he never intended to kill Bobby Mendes. He was 17 years old and he was being attacked.”
Lopes was near the intersection of Wendover and Humphreys streets on Oct. 10, 1995, when he was confronted by the 23-year-old Mendes, a confrontation that ended with the older man suffering a fatal stab wound to the heart as he pushed against the teenager with a metal bike frame, authorities and Lopes’s defense attorney have said.
After learning about Mendes’s death, Lopes never returned home to Boston and instead spent 12 years on the run living in Providence, New York, and then Baltimore, where he met and married a woman. The couple’s return to the United States from a vacation in Jamaica led to his capture in 2007.
Lopes was charged with murder. The jury in his first trial convicted him of manslaughter in 2008, leading to a 12-year sentence. A new trial was ordered in 2016 by the state Appeals Court because Lopes’s family was kept out of the courtroom during jury selection, a violation of his constitutional rights.
The new trial began in Suffolk Superior Court this month and ended with Lopes’s acquittal, Demissie said Thursday. Demissie said Lopes testified in his own defense at his first trial and at the second trial, describing both times how Mendes was pressing a bike frame against him and as he maneuvered against that pressure, Mendes unintentionally suffered a fatal wound.
Lopes called 911 after the stabbing and told them that he acted in self-defense after Mendes and Mendes’s cousin attacked him and knocked him off his bicycle. The jury returned their verdict of acquittal after a total of 40 minutes of deliberations, Demissie said.
“This was one of the quickest not-guilty verdicts in a homicide case,’’ Demissie said. “There was no intentional killing — it was a freak accident during a fight.”
The death of Bobby Mendes triggered a wave of violence in the city’s Cape Verdean community that eventually killed Mendes’s brother, Alexander, in 2006 but also turned the mother of the two men, Isaura Mendes, into a community activist determined to stop violence in Boston.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who inherited the case, said her office is focused on helping the Mendes family “ . . . as it has been since the day Mr. Mendes was taken from them nearly 24 years ago. We will continue to provide services and support to help them through this new stage of their grief.”
In the statement, Rollins also thanked Boston police detectives, Suffolk prosecutors and victim witness advocates “ . . . who worked so hard for so many years to get the Mendes family answers and accountability. I’d also like to express my deep thanks to Isaura Mendes, who has turned her grief into action to promote peace in our communities. She has shown remarkable strength and commitment to preventing other families from suffering the loss of a loved one to violence.”