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Co-wives’ battle royal

By | February 11th 2009

By Wahome Thuku

Onyango and his wife Akinyi had just began celebrating the birth of their third son, Ronald, at a small village in Migori District in November 2002 when the worst happened.

Onyango had two wives, Akinyi and Miriam. The three lived in one house sharing a sitting room. However, Akinyi slept in the only bedroom in the house while Miriam slept in a store that had been converted into a bedroom.

Onyango and Akinyi had been married for six years and begotten three children including Ronald. Unfortunately, Miriam’s only child had died after birth. Miriam was hardly 17 when she married Onyango.

Ronald was only eight days old when the disaster struck and changed the family forever.

On this day, Onyango left his wives at home at 5:45am and went to work. At 7am, Akinyi washed Miriam’s clothes and those of her children and hung them to dry. Given the age gap, Akinyi may have considered Miriam more of her child than a co-wife.

Horrific sight

Akinyi then left baby Ronald sleeping in the house and went to tether their cows some distance away. Miriam was preparing porridge in the house and so she thought the baby was safe with her.

On returning a short while later, Akinyi did not find Miriam in the house. Her wet clothes had also been removed from the clothesline. The baby was also missing.

In a panic, Akinyi searched for the infant all over the house. When she entered the store cum Miriam’s bedroom, she saw the most horrific sight.

Ronald’s little body was there, floating in a big sufuria full of water. Akinyi wailed attracting the attention of neighbours.

They removed the lifeless body from the water and placed it on a chair and confirmed he was dead.

The first suspect was Miriam who was nowhere in the compound. Several groups of people searched for her. They caught up with her along Kisii-Migori Road carrying her clothes, including the wet ones, in a paper bag.

She was apprehended and taken home. When the husband returned at 11am upon receiving the news, Miriam was taken to a local police station.

She told the police she escaped because the baby died while she was there and she feared being beaten. She was charged with murder.

Different accounts

During the hearing, Onyango said he had continued sleeping in Akinyi’s bed after the baby was born while Miriam slept alone in the store.

He said Miriam was temperamental. She would leave the lamp on for long hours at night and would get angry when told to put it off.

Miriam gave unsworn evidence saying that on the material day, she washed utensils and went to graze cows in the field.

She was in the field when she heard screams in the house and went to check only to be told the baby had died.

Further, Miriam claimed that Akinyi had been threatening her and the murder charge was part of a frame up.

The defence argued that Akinyi might have actually killed her own baby after suffering from a mental disorder that affects new mothers.

In May 2005, the High Court in Kisii delivered a verdict. What would be your verdict?

Write to [email protected]

(See next week for the court’s ruling.)

Last week’s verdict

Lucky break

The High Court found Margaret guilty of the murder of her husband after considering all the evidence from eight witnesses. Even the assessors returned a verdict of guilty. She was convicted in December 2004 and sentenced to death.

On appeal, her lawyer claimed Margaret and Joseph had quarrelled on the material night resulting in the death. The State Counsel also submitted that having somehow admitted the killing, she should be convicted of a lesser charge of manslaughter.

The Court of Appeal, sitting in Nyeri, held that the woman was guilty of killing the husband. The judges said considering the circumstances of the case, Margaret ought to have been convicted for manslaughter. But they added that in every case where a quarrel between a husband and wife resulted in death, it did not mean one had to be charged with manslaughter and not murder.

In August 2006, they substituted the death sentence with a 15-year jail term to run from December 2004 when she was first convicted.

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