Despite pleading guilty, death row convict has conviction set aside

On the night of January 22, 2008, an exhausted Wilson Masaku groped his way to the bedroom of his house in Kwale and slumped on the bed oblivious that it was his last night alive.

A few minutes later, he was fast asleep.

At about 11p.m., a gang of three panga-wielding men, who had been lurking in the dark, approached his house and entered forcefully after breaking down the door.

The assailants seemed to know their way inside the house as they headed straight to the bedroom and immediately started slashing Masaku. After they ascertained he was dead, the trio shoved his body into a sack and dumped it a few metres from his house before escaping.

Shocked neighbours who stumbled upon the body in the morning reported the matter at Msambweni Police Station.

One month later, police arrested three suspects who they arraigned before the then Senior Resident Magistrate in Kwale County, Daniel Ogembo.

While one of the accused persons identified as David Munyoki pleaded guilty, the other two denied the robbery with violence charges.

Munyoki maintained he was guilty even after the court directed the prosecution to read out the charges to him five times.

He asked for leniency and stated that he committed the offence alone, contrary to the charge sheet, which indicated he had two accomplices.

That notwithstanding, the court sentenced him to death.

The charge sheet further showed that the deceased’s bicycle and radio were stolen but that information was missing from the facts of the crime.

Despite admitting guilt, Munyoki moved to the High Court in Mombasa to challenge the ruling saying the particulars of the offence, as stated in the charge sheet, did not disclose the offence of robbery with violence.

His appeal was however, dismissed on August 13, 2013 and the conviction upheld.

This prompted him to seek redress at the Court of Appeal where he successfully secured his freedom late last month.

Appellate judges Milton Makhandia, William Ouko and Kathurima M’Inoti noted that the plea of guilty as recorded by the trial court was unequivocal and the offence of robbery with violence was not proved due to the conspicuous absence of important details.

They also faulted the High Court for what they termed as its unprecedented directive that Munyoki be subjected to a psychiatric test and the report filed within 30 days for the court’s final decision.

“Was the judges’ decision to seek a psychiatric report necessitated by the fact that they found it strange for the appellant to plead guilty to a capital offence even after being warned repeatedly of the consequences?” they posed.

Eventually, the appellate bench quashed the conviction, set aside the death sentence, and ordered that Munyoki be tried afresh within 14 days by a magistrate with jurisdiction in the Magistrate’s Court at Kwale.