Why High Court judge handed Jowie death penalty for murder

Joseph Irungu alias Jowie is handcuffed at Milimani court on Wednesday, March 13,2024 when the court sentenced him to death after he was found guilty of murdering Monica Kimani. [Collins Kweyu,Standard]

If anyone walked to room 18 on the fourth floor of Milimani Court Building on Wednesday, they would mistake Joseph Irungu sentencing session for a political rally.

The room was jam-packed, with those who either got late or could not muscle their way in, spilling to the corridors.

Some who had little space to breathe lifted their mobile phones to capture the moment High Court judge Grace Nzioka would sentence Irungu, alias Jowie, as punishment for killing Monica Nyawira Kimani.

Justice Nzioka took her time to explain why Jowie was destined for the gallows. Perhaps everyone, including journalists, hoped Justice Nzioka’s judgment would be short.

If playwrights were to pen about Justice Nzioka, a page of her suspense would feature for thespians to enact.

In a session that was a legal 101 lessons for both lawyers and laymen, she dissected the law, doused it with the submissions and everyone was eager for a conclusion.

Occasionally, she would shift to another one with a line... “ I will deal with that .”

Justice Nzioka started with the law on sentencing. She stated that there are at least nine kinds of punishments that a court can mete for murder.

According to her, a judge can decide to unleash death, order for imprisonment, detention, order community service, a fine, forfeiture or payment of compensation.

She also said part of this may entail order to a person to keep peace and be of good behaviour and any other punishment provided by the Penal Code or any other Act.

She then categorized them into two – custodial and non-custodial sentences.

For non-custodial sentences, she said, a person could be ordered to serve the community, be handed probation period, ordered to pay a fine or compensation to the victims, or reconciliation.

Justice Nzioka said the basis for a court to hand a non-custodial sentence is first the convict acknowledging he had committed an offence and commit to rehabilitation.

She, however, ruled out Jowie qualifying for a sentence outside prison.

According to her, a pre-sentence report indicated that both Jowie and Nyawira’s families could not see eye to eye.

She said, there was no chance of rehabilitation.

On the fine or compensation, Justice Nzioka was of the view that both the convict and the victim’s family acknowledged that her death could not be compensated with money. 

“Is this convicted person eligible for a non-custodial sentence? My answer was in the negative. For simple reason, for who is given an opportunity for rehabilitation must first and foremost acknowledge commission of the offence and the need to reform. Without that, there would be no need to consider rehabilitation,” said Nzioka. 

Having knocked out the possibility of Jowie of serving his sentence outside prison, she then moved to why he could not serve several years before his release.

She said the prosecution had proved that Jowie had pre-meditated killing Nyawira.

At the same time, the judge observed that the 33-year-old then killed Nyawira in cold blood and left her tied in a bathtub.

The other factor that Justice Nzioka relied on in declining to order Jowie to serve a jail term was that he burnt the kanzu he wore on the night of the murder in a bid to conceal evidence.

According to the judge, the prosecution also proved that Nyawira never provoked Jowie.

She then delved into his character, noting that a pre-sentencing report had shown that Jowie was a man of double personality.

The judge observed that the lead investigator – Chief Inspector Maxwell Otieno – had described Jowie as a dangerous person as he was allegedly involved in a fight after he was released on bail.

Justice Nzioka said after factoring the pre-sentence report, Jowie’s mitigation, Nyawira’s family submissions and those of the DPP,  she had no other conclusion than to rule that Jowie suffers death. 

All through, he stood and blankly stared at Justice Nzioka. When she finally landed the banger, you would feel the pain her word inflicted into Jowie's soul.

His face was crestfallen as he bent and clutched his arms.

Justice Nzioka again did it in a suspenseful manner.

“ I have...” said Justice Nzioka as she flipped court file papers, then paused, and looked him in the face, and continued ... “ ordered that the first accused person before this court Joseph Kuria Irungu alias Jowie”... then flipped the papers again.

Nzioka then concluded that he will suffer death as provided by the law unless her orders are set aside. 

Outside court, Jowie’s mother Anactacia Thama said that she believed he was still innocent.

“My son is innocent na hajafanya kosa lolote na hajaua (he has not killed). Kuna kitu naamini, kuna God of a second chance na atamtoa ). A God of second chance will free him). Na ndio unaona nina nguvu juu Mungu nayemwamini ndiye atamtoa (that is why I am strong knowing God will free him,” she said.

Thama likened Jowie to the Joseph of the Bible who was handed as a slave only to emerge as a king.

Jowie has 14 days to appeal.

Kenya’s only death sentence option is by hanging. However, no convict has been hanged to death since 1987.

The last Kenyan to face the hangman was Hezekiah Ochuka, who was hanged in July, 1987.