With all its imperfections, weaknesses and holders’ personal failures, the attorney general’s office has rarely been criticized for letting suspects “get away with murder.” From the colonial days, the office has responded positively in murder cases in defense of those killed and arrested and charged many an unlikely suspect regardless of financial or political might. Several examples come to mind. The most prominent and recent case was former Commissioner of Lands Wilson Gachanja.
Though he was known to be politically well connected and suspected to be a friend of the president – then Mr. Moi – Mr. Gachanja was arrested and charged with killing a Mr. Magodu. Mr. Gachanja went through a full trial and was acquitted.
When a grandson of Lord Delamere was reported to have shot and killed a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) official on duty, there was little doubt that the suspect would be arrested and charged with the murder. There was no doubt either that the trial would be conducted to its finality and that the AG’s office would relentlessly pursue a guilty verdict and a death sentence.
To everyone’s consternation, the AG’s office entered the now infamous nolle prosequi and ordered an inquest to be conducted. First, there is no record of a murder accused being so lucky. A man reported to have shot another repeatedly does not even have the option of a manslaughter charge. It has not even mattered that the victim was reported to have made an arrest on the killing of wildlife and was enforcing the law when he was short by one of the persons he had arrested.
Lord Delamere’s grandson is thus the luckiest Kenyan yet in the history of the Penal Code.
Second, the suspect was not even bonded to remain in Kenya during the inquest. He was not told that he was still a murder suspect and would have to stay in Kenya until the inquest is over. We don’t even know whether he is a Kenyan citizen. But pending the inquest, he can very well leave this country legally and stay away legally for the rest of his life. To add to the mystery is the choice of an inquest. One would have expected that further investigations be done if there was confusion for those further investigations to reveal a need for an inquest. Yet, instead it was immediately decided that an inquest is necessary. What was the hurry to free the suspect? How many other people are in remand simply because “investigations are not yet completed?”
An inquest in the case of Lord Delamere’s grandson is an insult to the Kenyan public because it sends the message that “no one knows what happened.” An inquest always sends such a message because it is meant to inquire into the circumstances of mysterious deaths to find out who, if anyone, should be blamed for a killing. Indeed, the Criminal Procedure Code under which inquest are conducted requires the inquiry magistrate to decide whether the offence of murder or manslaughter has been committed by any person. In this way therefore, the AG has totally insulted the nation’s intelligence and it would be fair to say that he does think we are a bit dumb. The truth is, that everyone knows, what happened when the ranger died.
They saw it all on television.
An inquest also sends the wrong message to law enforcement officers. The AG’s office has sent out the message that there are circumstances when a shooting suspect is not to be inconvenienced with a trial for murder or even manslaughter which can be bailed. After this decision, not many police officers are going to approach suspects with the confidence that the state is behind them. Clearly, the AG’s office has betrayed an officer of the state whom the law had given the power to cock his gun in the course of duty and died for doing so. In recent days, we have heard the government being criticized for insensitivity to the common man. It has, in fact, been criticized for being a government of the rich.
The withdrawal of the murder charges against Lord Delamere’s grandson proves that this criticism is warranted. I wonder whether, if one of the accused had been a mere worker on the farm, the Director of Public Prosecutions would have travelled all the way to enter a nolle prosequi.