Justice Odek: Law scholar with a big heart who loved fine things in life

Court of Appeal judge James Aggrey Otieno Odek (pictured), who died early this week, loved good things and shared his spoils with the common man in his village.

Those who knew him well say the Judge was not only brilliant and a workaholic but had a big heart for the trodden in his sleepy village in Asembo, Bondo sub-county.

Well-manicured lawns and chirping birds welcome you to his home where a towering maisonette confirms the law professor lived well.

His neighbours and relatives, who spoke to Sunday Standard, described him as man who loved giving back to society. He helped build churches and schools.

Justice Odek’s body was found at his apartment in Kisumu on Monday. It is suspected he may have died over the weekend. He was 56.

His driver, who had gone to pick him in the morning as usual, could not reach him on phone, and on checking his house, found the door locked from inside even as his official car was at the parking yard.

Police are investigating what may have caused his death. Nyanza Regional Police Commander Vincent Makhokha said they have interrogated the two guards who were on duty at Justice Odek’s apartment where he lived alone, last weekend.

The police, he said, had also taken Justice Odek’s mobile phones for analysis.

On Thursday, the much-awaited postmortem which was set to be conducted at Aga Khan Hospital mortuary in Kisumu was postponed at the eleventh hour over what the family said was a disagreement over the pathologist who was to conduct the exercise.

According to the judge’s elder brother Yona Odek, a pathologist had been brought in from Kakamega, but he could not proceed with the work following an advisory from the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) that the exercise could not proceed in the absence of the government pathologist.

By the time the decision to postpone the exercise was reached, representatives from the family, the Judiciary and the police, had already converged at the facility.

“As a family, we do not have any issue with the postponement, and we have tentatively settled on Tuesday next week as the day for the autopsy,” he said.

He said official communication had been made to the office of the government pathologist on the mater, and that they were looking forward for the exercise.

However, Nyanza Regional DCI James Kipsoi distanced himself from any directives, saying he had no information on the postmortem.

“I have not been notified of the postmortem,” Mr Kipsoi responded in a text message in response to queries by Sunday Standard.

By noon, the representatives who had converged at the facility to witness the exercise had dispersed, leaving behind the judge’s family.

At his home in Memba village, relatives and neighbours sat in small groups pondering over their loss.

Many of the villagers believe Justice Odek was destined for bigger things - with some saying he would have become the next Chief Justice after Justice David Maraga.

“With the kind of experience and qualifications he had, we had very high hopes that our late cousin would be the next Chief Justice,” said his cousin Joshua Owino.

Samwel Machuma, 50, whom has been Justice Odek’s farm hand said: “It is still difficult to believe Mzee is gone.