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Fresh row stalks Cholmondeley

BUSINESS
By | October 24th 2009

By Cyrus Ombati and Antony Gitonga

Thomas Cholmondeley, one of the country’s aristocrats, was released from prison under a cloud of controversy similar to one that enveloped his dramatic three-year trial.

Cholmondeley left Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, where he served five months for killing stonemason Robert Njoya, on Friday at dawn — perhaps hoping it was early enough not to cause a commotion.

But at dusk, prison authorities had summoned a news conference to explain his release — hardly routine for release of inmates — exposing the controversy gripping the Old Estonian’s walk to freedom.

Tom Cholmondeley

Earlier prisons officials had said Cholmondeley was freed under parole for inmates who have served two-thirds of their sentence and behaved well.

He had been jailed for eight months in May for killing Njoya in his Soysambu farm in Naivasha. Cholmondeley’s trial and sentencing was as dramatic and disputed as his release from prison.

The trial, which began in 2006, was one of the most sensational in the country’s recent history, coming just a year after Cholmondeley was acquitted of the murder of a KWS warder at the same Soysambu ranch.

In 2005 Cholmondeley had been charged with the murder of Samson ole Sisina. He spent a month in custody before the State terminated the case, citing lack of evidence to sustain a murder charge. An inquest into the death of ole Sisina is open.

Light sentence

The acquittal outraged the public, but the rage dissipated with time, only for Kenyans to wake up to the news of Njoya’s murder at Soysambu one year later.

After a protracted three-year trial Cholmondeley was found guilty of killing Njoya. But the High Courtspared him the hangman’s noose after the murder charge was reduced to manslaughter.

Justice Muga Apondi sentenced the grandchild of Lord Delamere to eight months imprisonment, prompting protests against the "light sentence".

Under Kenyan laws manslaughter carries a sentence of up to life in prison.

However Justice Apondi said he was giving him a "light sentence" because he had been in custody for three years and had tried to help Njoya and transport him to hospital.

Even then the judge acknowledged the controversy of the case and partly blamed it on the emotive land issue.

"This court understands the undercurrents, but I believe the Executive is dealing with the issues of land and other inequalities," he said.

The expansive estate, estimated at about 19,000 hectares (48,000 acres), has been at the centre of the controversial debate on the country’s skewed land distribution.

In mitigation, defence lawyer Fred Ojiambo said the Delamere family was willing to meet the "material and spiritual needs" of the Njoyas.

He pitched for a sentence "that allows the accused to participate in their welfare."

And on Friday, Cholmondeley was freed hoping time spent in jail was a healer, and would calm his critics, but events following his release were not rosy.

He was driven to freedom from Kamiti Maximum Prison in a prison van at about 7am at his request, according to authorities.

The arrangement, it is understood, arose after he expressed fears the media may have been tipped of his release and he was apprehensive the publicity could have prompted protests.

Prison sources told The Standard on Saturday Cholmondeley, 40, had packed his belongings on Wednesday night in readiness for his walk to freedom.

Witnesses said he was excited but nervous as the vehicle drove out of the Kamiti compound while saluting at the warders at the gates.

No member of his family turned up at the prisons gates. He reportedly was dropped in Karen at a friend’s house.

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