Thirty years and 8,000 miles separated the quiet restaurant on Havana Street in Aurora where a man sat one day in May and the brutal jail in his native Ethiopia where he watched guards torture political prisoners.
But when the man looked up, he saw a link in a face across the room. He knew that face.
As a federal agent testified in a court hearing Tuesday, the man — identified in court and investigation documents only by his initials, K.K. — walked toward the figure from his past.
"(K.K.) indicated that he had confronted him," Homeland Security Investigations special agent Jeffrey Lembke testified. "He indicated he said, 'Aren't you Kefelegn Alemu Worku?'"
Thus started a sequence of events that brought a Denver parking lot attendant — charged officially under the name John Doe — into a federal courtroom Tuesday. Federal officials allege that John Doe, who had used the name Habteab Temanu, is in fact Worku, a former high-ranking guard at the Ethiopian prison "Higher 15."
In 2001, a British Broadcasting Corporation report, citing Ethiopian media, said a former guard at the prison named Kefelegn Alemu was convicted, in absentia, of participating in the execution of 101 people. He was ordered hanged should he ever be found.
The prison was used to hold political prisoners during Ethiopia's Red Terror political upheaval in the late 1970s, during which perhaps hundreds of thousands of members of opposition political groups were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed across the country.
K.K. was not tortured, Lembke testified Tuesday, but he said he witnessed Worku torture other prisoners while being held at Higher 15. After going to authorities in May, K.K. picked the man he says is Worku out of a photo line-up, Lembke said. Two other Ethiopians who were held in the prison but now live in Virginia — identified only as N.S. and B.D. — also chose the man calling himself Temanu out of a photo line-up when asked to identify Worku, Lembke said.
The man alleged to be Worku is not charged in relation to the Ethiopian crimes. Instead, federal officials accuse him of lying on immigration documents and have charged him with identity-theft and immigration offenses.
In court Tuesday, Lembke said the man he believes is Worku had lived in Kenya for 13 years before moving to the United States in 2004. He has a young daughter in Kenya, whom he continues to send money to, Lembke said. His brother owns a hospital in Ethiopia, Lembke said.
During Tuesday's hearing, the man's lawyer, Matthew Golla, repeatedly referred to his client only as "John Doe." The man works for Central Parking for $10 an hour, Golla said. He earned citizenship in 2010.
He has no passport, though detectives found a partially filled out application at his apartment, Lembke said.
Golla asked federal Magistrate Judge Kristen Mix to release his client on bond, saying he is not a risk to flee.
"He really has nowhere to go," Golla said.
"This individual," Golla said later, "has no history in the United States of hurting anyone."
Indeed, the accused had attracted little attention in the United States — no arrests, no criminal history. But prosecutor Brenda Taylor argued that is just why he shouldn't be allowed out on bond. Federal records suggest the man has used at least three aliases in the United States, Mix noted.
"His ability to stay under the radar in Denver suggests he has the ability to stay under the radar in another place," Taylor said.
Mix agreed. She ordered the man accused of being a vicious prison guard to stay behind bars while he awaits trial.