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Co-conspirator trial beings for brutal attack and rape of woman in northwest ND

David Mbulu

WILLISTON, N.D.—Trial for a man accused of being a co-conspirator in a brutal 2015 attack and rape of a woman in a rural area in far northwest North Dakota when the temperature was only 19 degrees began Monday in Williston with promises from attorneys on both sides that the facts of the story will reveal the truth.

"You'll hear that he has some explanations and excuses for why this happened," Williams County prosecutor Nathan Madden said of David Mbulu, who is charged with criminal conspiracy, accomplices, conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder.

If convicted, Mbulu, 23, could face up to life in prison.

Prosecutors say he and Jean-Michael Kisi, who is scheduled for trial in May on charges including gross sexual imposition and conspiracy to commit murder, became angry when a woman who'd promised to pay Mbulu to drive her from Williston to a bank in Minot apparently didn't have the money readily available and couldn't pay for the group's overnight stay in a hotel.

An argument began before the three left Minot in November 2015, and escalated in the car on the way back to Williston.

After a unsuccessful stop in Ray to try to find a supervisor who owed Mbulu money, the three continued west on a back route, eventually veering off of the county road onto a little-used dirt track near Epping, prosecutors say.

The two men stopped the car and attacked the woman, Madden told the jury. Mbulu used a car jack to beat her, he said, and held her down while Kisi raped her.

"Once this was done out there, (the victim) was found on County Road 42... all she had on at that point was basically a long t-shirt," Madden said, adding that the temperature was about 19 degrees.

Mbulu, who has been held at the Williams County Correctional Center on $1 million bond since his arrest, appeared in court wearing a suit.

Defense attorney Misty Nehring reminded the jury, made up of nine men and four women, that prosecutors must clearly prove each charge against Mbulu.

"Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden of evidence required by law," she said, adding that although cell phone videos taken just before the incident include offensive language, Mbulu has maintained that he is innocent of charges relating to the attack. "David has pled not guilty, that is why we are here... I'm asking you to keep an open mind, and wait (to decide) until you've heard all of the evidence."

Testimony from witnesses is expected to begin Tuesday at the Williams County Courthouse.