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Lies and more suspects: The untold story of a conspiracy to get rogue cops off the hook

Willy Kimani's brother Simon Njenga speaks after the ruling on July 22 2022. [Esther Jeruto, Standard]

When judge Jessie Lesiit sealed the fate of three police officers and an informant for killing lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri, she narrated a story of a father who instructed his son to watch his back while he stole mangoes.

According to her, the man had instructed the child to keep watch of anyone who would come by, and alert him. While he was on his dubious business, the young man fled. Asked what was up, he told his father that he realised God was watching them.

Although man may not catch one on the wrong as another has their back, the Almighty sees all.

The judge may have been giving an anecdote of what she felt about the trial that was shrouded with deceit as even State witnesses, some police officers, lied to get their colleagues off the hook.

The long hand of the law caught up with police constable Frederick Leliman, Stephen Chebulet, Sylvia Wanjiru, and police informant Paul Ngugi. Police constable Leonard Mwangi was acquitted.

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji and the Law Society of Kenya laid out a concerted effort by some police officers and Ngugi to exonerate the officers from the 2016 murder.

LSK and the DPP argued that the officers’ colleagues, some of who were State witnesses and others who appeared for the defense, went to the depths of giving conflicting testimony and Ngugi omitting crucial information to get his co-accused off the hook.

However, Ngugi finally, maybe because he had seen God just as the boy, narrated to the court what had happened, including getting a bribe while the case was ongoing to buy his silence.

Haji called 46 witnesses and produced 117 exhibits in a bid to convince Justice Lessit that Leliman, Mwangi, Cheburet and Wanjiru are guilty of murder. He detailed how Mwenda’s arrest over alleged gambling quickly spiralled into a murder plot after Leliman shot him on the arm.

“Your ladyship, we urge you to find the prosecution has discharged its burden of proof in respect of each accused person. We pray your ladyship to find all the accused persons guilty of the offence of murder, record conviction under Section 322 of the Criminal Procedure code and pass the appropriate sentence,” Senior Assistant DPP Nicholas Mutuku and Betty Mbula argued.

The DPP argued that the informer tried to divert the court from Leliman, the mastermind, by naming police driver Juma Kamau who was not there. At the same time, the DPP argued that Ngugi also tried to switch Mwangi with a Mwaniki.

“The question to ask ourselves at this point is what did prosecution witness 26 (Juma Kamau), a police driver based in Mlolongo Police Station have in the life of Josephat Mwenda Mwathi?” paused Mutuku.

According to the DPP, Ngugi made a turnaround to disown a confession on the murder and implicated other members of Mlolongo undercover squad known as SPIV to take Leliman, Mwangi, Cheburet, and Wanjiru off the hook.

In his testimony, Ngugi told the court that there were more police officers, some of who were fronted as State witnesses, who were involved in the murder of ‘car thieves.’

Ngugi told the court that he was recruited as an informer in 2009 for the flying squad which was disbanded in 2019.

He pensively narrated to Justice Lesiit how he met an officer named Wilson Kamau through former Mlolongo Officer Commanding Station Stephen Lelei. He also spoke of an alleged cover-up during trial in exchange of Sh30,000 monthly, a free house and a business for his wife.

While in Naivasha Prison, he said, he kept to himself dossiers that he was finally revealing in court and the fact that he was ‘used’ agonised him.

“I kept some of the things secret. It was my secret deep in my heart. I am now not afraid like before to talk about it… A lot of things my lawyer did not know,” he narrated.

The informer painted a picture of a police force gone rogue, with bad blood between general police officers and Administration Police who he referred to as 'polisi was chifu (chief’s police).'

He testified that Leliman, Mwangi, Cheburet and Wanjiru were APs while other officers who were in the murder plot but were never charged were from the general police.

According to him, when the four were arrested in relation to the murder, he was not worried since the people he knew were killed and dumped into Ol-Donyo Sabuk River were car thieves. He claimed he saw two bodies loaded into the car at the murder scene on Mombasa Road.

Ngugi placed Kamau at the center of the murder. According to him, he received instructions from Kamau on what to do and had the officer’s two mobile numbers. He testified that when he heard that other officers had been arrested, he knew he was free.

Kamau’s mobile number data was read to him and showed that they were together at Ol-Donyo Sabuk where the bodies of the deceased were dumped. “If it was Kamau who was arrested, I would have known it was about the murder. However, the people I knew were about the murder of ‘car thieves,” he claimed.

He also mentioned Police Constable Charles Waweru, another he identified as Mwaniki and a third one nicknamed Wa Ingo as officers who were not in court but were linked to the murder. He asserted that he knew about two people being killed and not three.

The informer said if the police had traced the data for Kamau, Waweru and Wa Ingo, they would have found that they were together in all the scenes, including at Leliman’s wife's bar.

He continued: “I was with Kamau and this is what has put me behind bars. I have been having sleepless nights thinking about Kamau and what we did that night.”

According to him, there is an unnamed fourth officer who he handed the car that was dumped at Limuru.

Ngugi, a Standard Frou dropout cut a niche in mitumba business. He testified that he had a business in Kawangware and another one he started after meeting Lelei at Syokimau. The Molongo business was to sell jeans to revelers.

His task on the day of the killings was to spy on the ‘ thieves’ but it ended up with more tasks such as driving the vehicle towards Kamirithu and dumping the bodies. After this was done, he claimed, they were to drink alcohol at Leliman’s wife's bar.

Ngugi claimed it was the police’s tradition to take alcohol ‘after work’ and on the night of the murder. After they had dumped the bodies and returned to the bar, he intended to take two bottles only then head home.

Another officer named Kamenju led the team to Ol Donyo Sabuk. The killer team went back to Mlolongo where they arrived at 4am. Ngugi drunk himself to sleep until 4pm of October 24, 2016.

According to him, when he was taken to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the investigators wrote for him a statement which he signed as a ‘plan’ to testify against Leliman, Mwangi, Cheburet and Wanjiru.

Ngugi narrated that investigators promised him Sh30,000 monthly pay, house rent and his wife’s business would be shifted from Kawangware to a new place he was to identify after he  testified against ‘polisi wa chifu.’

According to him, all those who were not charged are from the general police. He continued that even in remand and when the court found him to have a case to answer, he still believed that the promise by the investigators was still alive.

“I was at work. I was to have a house rent and get Sh30,000 and they would shift my wife’s business from Kawangware to where the police would move me,” he said.

Meanwhile, he asserted that the Sh15,000 he allegedly received from Lelei on October 8, 2021 was to buy his silence. The informer claimed that he was promised that if the court jails him, then his appeal would be fast-tracked.

“I was simply to deny that I do not know Leliman and if jailed, he will help fast-track my appeal to be released. The money was to be used to buy tissue and soap while in prison. I swear I did not participate in planning the murders,” he added.

Ngugi said he is in agony that the police officers and investigators were ‘using him.’

“I have now testified and given what I had kept in secret and I am not fearing anymore,” Ngugi said.

In his submissions, the DPP argued that Ngugi deliberately omitted Leliman and Mwangi’s names in his submissions. According to the DPP, Leliman were involved in the murder and disposal of the bodies to River Athi near Ol Donyo Sabuk.

Meanwhile, LSK which was representing Kimani’s family argued that although Ngugi confessed about the planning and execution of the three, a police officer who was a State witness applied to be heard in camera only for him to say that was disturbed by unspecified persons in court.

LSK also argued that former Mlolongo police boss Stephen Lelei, Alfred Makau, Corporal Richard Nyakundi and Philemon Mwita gave contradicting account on the happenings of June 23 and 24, 2016.

“Contradicting accounts by PW12, Philemon Mwita (PW18), CIP Stephen Lelei (PW20), Alfred Muthiani Makau (PW21) and CPL Richard Nyakundi (PW22) being police officers from Mlolongo Weighbridge, Mlolongo Police Station, and the AP Post reveal a strategy to stymie disclosure of adverse testimony. The conspiracy includes an attempt by the fifth accused to amend exhibit 90 from the dock and a bribe by the first accused,” LSK submitted.

It emerged that Mwenda may not have been eliminated if his plea that he be places under witness protection was acted upon. The submissions read that he had written to the then Inspector General of Police saying his life was in danger but he never got a reply.

“The parents and siblings of the 1st deceased respectfully submit that the Prosecution established its case against the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th accused in the murder of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd deceased beyond any reasonable doubt,” LSK continued.

On the other hand, the accused persons called a total 18 witnesses.