What started as stolen moments of intimacy in a cell at Nyeri Maximum Security Prison has ended in death, tears and unanswered questions.
At the centre of the mysterious death are theories and allegations of a jilted lover, betrayal, a mobile phone and an intricate web of cover-up.
In this matrix, the family of 29-year-old Peterson Mwendia Ngari is desperately searching for answers.
They want to understand how Mwendia died inside his prison cell Number 3 while serving a life sentence at King’ong’o on the night of November 19 last year.
Investigations by the Saturday Standard have established that Mwendia was sharing a cell with Peter Maina, a soul mate convicted for armed robbery.
The two prisoners had struck a friendship while serving their time in Nyeri and it was not a coincidence but a well-planned scheme that involved giving some prison officers money to allow the union.
“We had given out Sh3,000 to be allowed to stay together in the same cell. We were lovers and wanted to live together in one cell,” Maina says.
We further established that the two men had been in a relationship for more than a month before they moved in the same cell where they could be alone all night.
All went well until Mwendia went to Kerugoya for hearing of a petition he had lodged for his re-sentencing. He stayed there for some days but reports filtered back to his cell in Nyeri to his “lover” that he was seeing another man.
“When he came back from Kerugoya, Maina was very upset with him. Things got worse when Mwendia siphoned Sh13,300 from his cellmate’s phone and sent it to someone else,” a source says.
However, Maina gives another version of events of what really happened on the fateful night. “On the night of November 18, there was a search in our cell. At around 8 pm six officers came to our cell. The boss remained at the door. As the search was going on, I was ordered out of the cell,” he says.
The prisoner claims to have been taken to an area code-named mess where prisoners watch TV as warders conducted their operation for about 15 minutes.
After this, the officers allegedly ordered him to follow them to the security area, where he remained for some time but when he was ultimately allowed back to his cell, he found Mwendia bleeding from the mouth and nose.
His body was lying on a mattress facing the solitary bulb in the cell and was partly covered. It was dressed in a short popularly known as kunguru and a sweater.
At one point, Maina claims, the search had yielded Mwendia’s phone, an Itel which he saw with the warders involved in the operation at the place the prisoners call Security.
Secret of the death
Maina says he spent the night with his cellmate’s body and that he was warned not to let out the secret of the death. In the course of the night, prison warders reportedly visited him and his dead cellmate four times.
The body was collected after about 10 police officers visited the cell at 6 am on November 19. They photographed the body, the cell, and briefly interviewed Maina.
“They wanted to know whether the door had been open in the night and whether there had been any visitors to the cell,” says Maina.
Later, about four officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) visited the cell and took lengthy notes. It was after this visit that Maina was removed from the cell and sent to another where he was held in isolation. Some sources at the prison at first indicated that Mwendia had committed suicide but could not sustain this theory after the only possible witness to the death, Maina, disowned it.
Maina readily admitted that he and his cellmate were lovers but denied that they had any difference, insisting that his friend was strangled by prison authorities.
However, the deceased’s younger brother, Samuel Njagi, says the pathologist who conducted the postmortem informed him that Mwendia had died as a result of strangulation.
“When I last saw my brother in Kerugoya during the hearing of his appeal, he was so full of life and hope. He was confident that he would be released soon. It is tragic that he was killed.
We demand that those who killed him are punished,” Njagi says. The distraught brother recalls how he saw Mwendia at the Nyeri mortuary.
“His body had blood in the mouth and nose. He had been strangled and the officers present told me he had been killed by his cellmate,” Njagi says.
He says his mother, Stella Wanja, had at one point been allowed to interview Maina to explain why he had strangled him.
“The prison officers told us that Mwendia and Maina had been sharing a cell. They told us Maina had strangled my brother and they were investigating. Once investigations were over, they promised to alert us. We have not heard anything since,” Njagi says.
According to Nyeri County Referral Hospital mortuary records, Mwendia’ body was booked into the facility on November 19, 2019, from Kenya Prisons.
The records also indicate that the body once received, underwent a postmortem examination with the cause of death recorded as injuries to the neck consistent with strangulation, the report was handed over to the local police for investigations by the DCI. On December 5, Njagi who was identified as the next of kin, collected the body from the mortuary for burial in Kiamwathi, Kirinyaga County.
Police records indicate the file had been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for perusal. An officer privy to the investigation says after conducting thorough investigations they concluded that the victim had been murdered by his cellmate and had recommended that he be charged.
“The victim was serving a life sentence and based on witness statements there were only two people in the cell, the body was found on the floor of the cell and therefore it was not plausible that he committed suicide,” the officer says.
Ken Aluda who is in charge of communications at the Kenya Prisons Services said although he had not received the file on the case, an inquest had been opened to probe the cause of death and the circumstances.
-Additional Reporting by Lydiah Nyawira