The High Court in Eldoret has granted Ibrahim Rotich, the key suspect in the murder of athlete Agnes Tirop a last chance to pursue a plea bargain after a previous attempt to do so failed.
Justice Reuben Nyakundi noted that the defence team as well as the prosecution and the family’s advocates had not agreed on the plea bargain request made by Rotich’s lawyer in June last year.
Nyakundi told Rotich’s advocate to explore the plea bargain route one last time before the court would settle on whether to grant its request or proceed with the hearing of the case.
“The court will give the defence this duration (until April 19) as the last stroke to deal with the plea bargain issue. Follow the legal approach so that we can be able to fast track this matter,” said Justice Nyakundi.
In the matter, the prosecution led by Mark Mugun and David Fedha told the court that they wanted it to maintain murder charges against the accused.
Mugun said that the prosecution and the defence were reading on different scripts as the republic would only bargain on the sentence of the accused whereas the defence wanted the murder charges reduced to manslaughter.
He asked the court to instead do away with the plea bargain and continue with the full hearing of the matter.
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“The republic is of the opinion that murder charges against the accused are maintained and negotiation can be done on the sentence. However, the defence wants manslaughter charges or nothing else. I ask the court to proceed and grant us a hearing date so that the matter proceeds to full trial,” said Mugun.
Richard Warigi, the advocate representing Tirop’s family, had also agreed with the prosecution, stating that the victim’s family was opposed to the manslaughter charges sought by the accused.
Warigi claimed that the defence was yet to serve him with their formal application for a plea bargain, while indicating that his clients would oppose the application.
“The defence has since June last year failed to serve us with their formal application, and we request that they do so since we need to air our views on the same. We will however oppose the same and agree with the prosecution on maintaining the charges of murder levelled against the accused,” said Warigi.
In June last year, Rotich had through his lawyer informed the court that he intended to seek a plea bargain in order to face a lesser charge of manslaughter.
The Court also heard for the first time that Rotich and Tirop had been married under statute on March 15, 2016. At the time of marriage, Tirop was 20 while Rotich was 37 years.
Ngigi Mbugua, the advocate representing Rotich, told the court that it was important to note that the couple had been married for five years and that a plea bargain would be the best route to take.
"We have told the prosecution that a plea bargain is the best way to assist the deceased's family in healing and serving justice. We hope the victim family will be receptive to this for their sake of getting closure in this otherwise painful incident," said Mbugua.
The court heard that the accused and deceased were married and that the unfortunate incident took place at the couple's home.
"The two were married, and the murder scene was their matrimonial bed," Mugun had said.
Justice Nyakundi had stated that it was wise to allow the defence to pursue the plea bargain before the court would settle on proceeding with the trial of the case or working on the plea bargain.
He noted that the prosecution was ready to proceed with the hearing of the case and 13 witnesses lined up to testify in court.
"Let us deal with the plea bargain issue first before we schedule a hearing date. We won't take hearing dates for now until the plea bargain issue is navigated so that we can make a firm decision whether we will proceed with the hearing or not," the judge advised.
The court had earlier in May 2022 denied to release Rotich on bond while listing compelling reasons that warranted the denial of bail/ bond.
Rotich denied the charge of murdering the athlete in November 2021.
Tirop, 25, was a star athlete who had participated in the Tokyo Summer Olympics held in 2021, featuring in the 5,000-metre race in which she finished fourth.
She won a bronze medal at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships in the 10,000m, and also broke the record in the women’s 10km road race at the Adizero Road to Records event in Herzogenaurach, Germany.
She was found dead in her house in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet County on October 13, 2021.
The postmortem examination done by pathologists at the Iten County Referral Hospital (ICRH) mortuary revealed that Tirop had suffered neck stabs and was hit on the head with a blunt object.