One of the men whom President William Ruto pardoned this week was paying for the sins of beating a boy who was forcefully circumcised.
John Kirunji M’rimbere now has a new lease of freedom, courtesy of the president’s mercy.
Perhaps, life behind bars has taught him a lesson, and just maybe, he will become a good ambassador against a bizarre tradition that saw Kenneth Gikunda lose his life.
Kirunji, who was convicted of murder, was cooling his heels behind bars after losing an appeal in 2015.
The long hands of the law caught up with him when he was singled out as the one who viciously beat Gikunda before a group of other individuals took the deceased to Thingithu River and forcefully circumcised him.
The details of the charge were that on December 15, 2000, at Uruku Sub-Location, Kaubao Village in Meru Central District, within the then Eastern Province, he murdered Gikunda. He denied the murder charge.
Justice Isaac Lenaola, now a Supreme Court Judge, found from the evidence of 10 witnesses that the boy was beaten up and forcefully circumcised in a river simply for visiting another initiate before he ‘became a man.’
The judge sentenced Kirunji to death. Upon appeal, three judges affirmed the sentence after finding that it was a pre-meditated vicious attack.
Court of Appeal Judges Roselyn Nambuye, Patrick Kiage, and Fatuma Sichale stated that it was a pre-meditated vicious assault Kirunji wanted to ‘discipline.’
“We find that from the nature of injuries sustained by the deceased that the appellant viciously assaulted him with the intention of causing at the very least, grievous bodily harm. We find and hold that in the eyes of the law, the appellant assaulted the deceased with malice aforethought,” the bench headed by Justice Nambuye ruled.
Witnesses told the court that on December 7, 2000, Gikunda visited one Mwiti, who had just been circumcised, but Gikunda himself had not received a cut.
According to the testimonies, it was taboo under Meru customs for a ‘boy’ to visit a fresh initiate. However, there were different versions of what happened next.
Stephen Muthuri and Shadrack Mutembei gave a different account from that of Gikunda’s father, Nkoroi. The two testified that Nkoroi sent them to get the deceased from Mwiti’s (the new initiate’s) home.
On the other hand, Nkoroi testified that when he came home from the hospital on that day, he was informed that the deceased had been taken by a group of people to be circumcised.
However, they all stated that the deceased was forcefully circumcised in the river.
Again, from the evidence, there were different versions of how Mutembei, Muthuri, and Kirunji became the deceased’s caretakers after his circumcision.
According to Mutembei and Muthuri, the deceased’s father requested them to take care of his son.
However, Nkoroi testified that on December 9, 2000, four men, including Kirunji, Mutembei, and Muthuri, approached him and told him they were responsible for the deceased’s circumcision and ordered him to pay a fine of Sh4,000 or they would kill him.
He testified further that the three imposed themselves as the deceased’s caretakers without his consent.
The first prosecution witness, Fredrick Muthaura, testified that on December 15, 2000, at around 7pm, he passed by Nkoroi’s home to look for Muthuri.
Muthaura said he found the deceased in his room in the company of one Mwaki M’meru. Upon inquiring about the whereabouts of Muthuri, he was informed that he had gone to weigh tea leaves. The witness said that five minutes later, Kirunji, who had a panga, entered the room, placed his panga at the entrance, and immediately sat on the deceased’s legs; the deceased was then seated on the floor.
Muthaura stated that Kirunji pressed a stick, which he had removed from the room, against the deceased’s neck and head-butted him.
The man then proceeded to kick the deceased on his chest several times. When Muthaura asked him what he was doing, Kirunji told him he would also come for him, and he left.
Mwaki told the court that he also witnessed the assault on the deceased. From the record, neither Muthuri nor Mutembei, the deceased’s caretakers, were present during this incident.
However, upon their return, the deceased complained of being sick, and as they were making arrangements to take him to the hospital, he passed away.
The postmortem report showed the deceased died as a result of bleeding in the chest cavity due to a chest injury. Based on the prosecution’s evidence, Kirunji was placed on his defence, and he gave a sworn statement.
In his reply, Kirunji testified that on December 7, 2000, at around 8pm, while at his house, Muthuri and Mutembei called him to check on the deceased, who had been circumcised.
Kirunji claimed that the deceased informed him he had been beaten by Mbaabu, Muthuri, Mutembei, Kaburu, and Gichunge because he had entered a house of a boy who had been circumcised while he was uncircumcised. According to him, he advised Nkoroi to take the deceased for treatment since he complained of being sick.
Kirunji said he gave the deceased Sh500 for treatment as Nkoroi had no money. The man denied assaulting the deceased and maintained that the charge against him had been fabricated.