At the time of his death at his Nairobi home on Monday evening, lawyer Paul Gicheru was still listed as “In ICC custody” on the International Criminal Court website.
Though released from The Hague-based court early last year, the man kept to a strict regiment of release condition which technically placed him in the court’s custody.
Gicheru was released on February 1, last year after depositing Sh1 million in security, agreeing to comply with court orders, keep off witnesses, avoid commenting on merits of the case in public and to reside in Kenya at “a specific address for the duration of the proceedings.”
He also deposited copies of his travel documents to the court, was to report on a weekly basis and was to ensure one of his mobile numbers was active, reachable at any time and had enough talk-back credit.
His trial closed on June 27, when parties to his witness tampering case gave their submission and the bench retreated to write judgment. During his last appearance in court on that day, Gicheru only uttered four words, and then waited on his fate.
“Good morning, Madam President,” he responded to Presiding Judge Miatta Maria Samba’s greetings, to which the judge retorted: “Thank you very much.”
Gicheru joined the session via video-link in Kenya.
On that day, prosecution led by Anton Steynberg and Gicheru’s defence led by Michael Karnavas put up the closing statements for their respective sides, hoping to sway the court to their direction.
Stenberg pulled all stops to paint Gicheru the ultimate mastermind of witness tampering scheme that sunk other ICC cases in Kenya. He analysed various recordings between Gicheru and some of the witnesses, concluding there was a common plan to get them out of the case.
When one of the witnesses complained to him that he was sidelining him yet he’s the one who convinced him to come to his side, Gicheru did not- in Steynberg interpretation- act surprised:
“Again, no indignant denial or surprised query. Rather, on this occasion, the accused’s response is to object that the witness has mentioned his name on the telephone.”
When the witness complained that another of Gicheru’s accomplice had been avoiding him, Gicheru replied that even he too did not know where he (the accomplice) was and he too had to proceed without him.
“So what are these things that Mr Gicheru was planning? In the absence of any reasonable explanation from the accused, the only inference consistent with the evidence is that he was talking about the witness interference scheme.”
Finally, when the witness offered to refund some money, Gicheru reportedly only asked him to stop:
“Not “What money? What are you talking about?” Just “Stop.” Your Honour, the only person who would be able to provide an explanation for these highly incriminating responses is the accused. He was unable to do so,” he submitted.
In pitching for his client, Karnavas likened Gicheru to the Biblical St Peter who denied Jesus thrice. He was putting context to Gicheru’s initial denial that he knew two ICC witnesses, one who was murdered and the other who was missing at the time.
Karnavas said it was only human, in the circumstances and context of the initial questioning, that Gicheru would deny them. In any case, he later came out clean on his dealings with them.
“Mr Gicheru is only human. Now St Peter denied Christ three times and he was told in advance he would.That was St Peter. Are we going to hold Mr Gicheru to a higher standard?” he posed.
“It’s not possible that under stress, under fear of maybe being implicated in the disappearance and murder of two individuals that the natural reaction would be, “No, I don’t know these people,” he added.
From the submission of Karnavas, it was clear that Gicheru was most satisfied with the manner his trial was conducted. He said the court presided over a “very efficient, fair, balanced proceeding.”
“I want to thank the prosecutor. As cases go, this was not very contentious. In fact, I was almost comatose most of the time compared to some of the other cases that I’ve been involved with. And it’s a testament to Mr Steynberg and his staff. They have been professional and we appreciate their hard work,” he said.
Yesterday and while speaking to New York Times, Karnavas called for full investigations by Kenyan agencies and the ICC into Gicheru’s death.
“Its somewhat off that after the election in Kenya, and before the court issued its judgment, there is this incident. This warrants the ICC stepping up to the plate,” he told New York Time’s Declan Walsh.