There is a section in the Kenyan law that provides for persons accused of capital offenses to be checked by a psychiatrist to assess their fitness to take plea when arraigned in court.
That law protects psychiatric patients from being tried when not in a fully functional state. Patients with debilitating mental illnesses cannot plead in a court of law. This is one subject that has baffled me as a doctor. The mental acuity to stand a trial.
We had this patient, ‘Sisqo’ as his friends called him, who was referred from a nearby remand prison for mental assessment. We had our forensic psychiatry clinic that day, and clients were those who had conflicts with the law.
Sisqo had been charged with second-degree murder. The details, he said were hazy. Still, he remembered finding a man, deep in pleasure with his wife on their matrimonial bed. He was hurt, bruised.
The man escaped by a whisker, and consequently, his wife got a lethal stab in the chest to quell his gladiatorial anger. The knife must have found the heart because Sisqo recalled “it was all red, I know no amount of medical prowess that could repair such a wounded heart.”
Sisqo was a jua kali artisan. He made jikos and metal boxes-the kind you see with form one students. Sisqo was a happy man when he returned home that fateful day. He found open shoes at the door. Big open shoes. The door was ajar, sitting room strewn with clothes.
His wife was issuing sound tracks in their bedroom. Sisqo’s heart broke into small pieces. A fight ensued. The lover boy clutched his clothes and fled. Anger was tearing Sisqo’s heart. The next thing he recalled was getting the kitchen knife which had renewed its acquaintance with the local grinder. “It was sharp; that’s all I remember,” said Sisqo, his voice trembling voice, eyes getting teary eyes up his beefy cheeks on a well-built body that deals with hard mabati.
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The tear flowed freely in the crevices of his wrinkled face when he began crying. “With pain and anger, I took her life.”
Sisqo then let out a sharp, wry cry. It takes a man, to know a broken man. He had lost it that night. His life was about to drastically worsen.
“Do you ever see or hear people or things that other people do not see or hear?” I asked.
“No; I just don’t know what happened that day.”
“Do you use any substances of abuse?”
“No, I don’t. I only drink occasionally.”
Then Sisqo launched on the beautiful times he shared with his late wife; from the courtship years a decade ago, to events that led to her tragic demise.
“I met my wife when I was a young man. I loved her with all that I am.”
“And then what happened?”
“Anger descended on me, why did she decide to give herself to another man? I felt betrayed. When I picked up that knife, I found myself in the police cell. That is where I put into perspective what had happened.” He says, staring at two flies mating on the bench in front of us. The male fly was too brief. Sisqo had made friends with the cop who brought him to the hospital. His request for is hands to be released were granted. I didn’t think he would jump at me with violence, and therefore I did not move an inch. Not a flinch.
My assessment did not reveal any signs of mental illness. Sisqo spoke normally, behaved normally. He felt about the situation as an average person would: His judgment was reasonable, his memory above average.
My notes read: “Fit to plead.”
Dr Oliver Kiaye-who loves literature- is a medical officer in Machakos County.
Editor’s note: The identifying clinical details have been changed to protect identity.