Plight of Sudanese Central to GI Murder Trial

Peter Lokodu, Sudanese Community Leader

Escaping a lawless land, refugees from Africa seek Nebraska's good life. But it's a difficult transition to make as seen in a local courtroom where a Sudanese man was found not guilty of killing a man from Somalia.

The verdict is hailed as justice by Grand Island's Sudanese community.

Peter Lokodu said, "We're very, very happy, overwhelming to see."

The last decade has brought a wave of refugees to Grand Island from Sudan. It's estimated 1-3,000 call the city home.

Like Latin American immigrants, they came for jobs. But the primary reason was to escape war.

Angelo Ungery is among those who escaped a civil war that resulted in creation of a new nation – South Sudan.

"I think it's getting better hopefully with new country now," he said.

Their children have quickly integrated, as Sudanese girls shared their dreams in a new film.

"My dream is to become a doctor," Habiba Ghaifan and Wajdan Yusif both said.

Nyarieka Kier said, "My dream is to be a lawyer and a judge."

Many adults spent years in refugee camps. Arkanjelo Kot was in Ethiopia and Kenya in United Nations camps.

Once they arrive in the U.S., they often struggle as much with culture and conduct as with the language.

Peter Lokodu is among the local leaders. He said, "My advice to the community – we have to know the law. We come from another country that we don't understand the law."

Lokodu has worked with police, but explains it can be tough to follow the law, coming from such a lawless land.

"We come from a place where skeletons still unburied and you see people killed in front of you."

Arkanjelo Kot admits to shooting a Somali man. Grand Island's Sudanese are mainly Christian and the Somalis mostly Muslim. Race and religion were factors in Sudan's civil war and were also in the background of this court case.

Defense Attorney Denise Frost said, "Hopefully this trial gave the opportunity to a number of citizens to learn more. I certainly learned a great deal."

Police Chief Steve Lamken says he's got a good working relationship with the Sudanese–American community and welcomes continued discussion.