Mombasa court quashes 30-year jail term for insane man who killed policeman

VOI: It was just a normal, ordinary day at the Taita Taveta District headquarters on March 27, 2011 when Leonard Mwangemi, a psychiatric patient, entered the compound with a concealed knife in his pocket.

He headed straight to where a group of five police officers were seated on a bench whiling away the Sunday afternoon in a heated chitchat. After greeting them, Mwangemi sat next to the only uniformed and armed police officer who was on duty that day.

Without any provocation, Mwangemi suddenly drew out the knife and stabbed the uniformed officer, identified as Erick Omwenga, on the left side of the chest.

He then fled but was pursued and arrested by Omwenga’s colleagues who recovered another knife and a panga (machete) from him.

The officers then rushed their colleague to a nearby hospital before transferring him to Kilimanjaro Medical Centre in Moshi, Tanzania, where he died upon arrival.

Mwangemi was later charged with murder before Justice Maureen Odero at the High Court in Mombasa. He pleaded not guilty saying he suffered from a mental illness for which he had been on treatment.

Mwangemi underwent two psychiatric examinations on June 27, 2012 and October 25, 2013. Both tests acknowledged Mwangemi’s mental illness, but noted that he was stable at the time of examination and therefore fit to take plea.

But in her judgment, Justice Odero said although Mwangemi claimed he was a mental patient and had been on medication, there was nothing to suggest that he suffered from mental illness at the time of the incident.

She further held that malice aforethought was proved going by the nature of injuries suffered by the deceased and that he was armed with two knives and a panga. She sentenced him to 30 years.

Mwangemi moved to the Court of Appeal in Mombasa on grounds that the trial court failed to evaluate his mental status.

Appellate judges Milton Makhandia, William Ouko, and Kathurima M’inoti faulted Justice Odero for imprisoning Mwangemi instead of making a special finding of guilty, but insane and ordering for his detention in custody pending the president’s further orders.

“To the extent that the sentence was unlawful, we set aside the 30-year imprisonment and substitute it with a special finding of guilty but insane and direct that the appellant be kept in custody at Shimo La Tewa Prison pending the president’s order,” they ruled on September 30, this year.