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Why AG James Karugu felt powerless after sex worker's death

 When President Daniel Moi witnessed the swearing-in of James Karugu as the second Attorney General. [File, Standard]

Kenyans are watching keenly as freedom sweeps across the country, breaking the shackles on the wrists of suspected criminals who had been perceived guilty.

As Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua celebrates his newfound freedom after the quashing of his Sh7.5 billion corruption case, the Judiciary is mourning one of its most independent minds, James Karugu.

Karugu, who was the country's second Attorney General after the venerated Charles Njonjo made history when he told Parliament that he (Karugu) was impotent because he could not prevent one of Kenya's worst cases of travesty of justice.

When he was summoned to Parliament sometime in February 1980 following the scandalous release of a US sailor, Frank Sundstrom who had been found guilty of murdering a Mombasa commercial sex worker, Monica Njeri, Karugu fumed: "I am not satisfied that justice was done." The Attorney General added that he was "frustrated" because he was "legally impotent" to do anything in the case.

Karugu was reacting to the Sh500 fine slapped on the 19-year-old sailor even after admitting that he had killed Njeri.

It was a rare case where the British prosecutor, Nicholas Hardwood behaved like the defence counsel, before the 74-year-old Judge L G E Harris, also a Briton, during the hearing of the case.

Hardwood told the court that Sundstrom had stabbed Njeri with a beer bottle and stolen her money because he was dissatisfied with her services after a night out.

The prosecutor, cited Sundstrom's testimony that he went berserk as a sign that he was remorseful and ought not be confined to a prison.

"When I finally stopped and realised what I had done I was almost crying."

In his verdict rendered on September 30, 1980, Justice Harris said: "Having had intercourse together, the accused and Njeri consumed more beer after which they came to blows, he apparently having taken money from her purse, and so violent was this drunken fracas that he smashed a bottle on her head and jabbed her with the broken bottle inflicting the wound from which she died."

Although the American pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter the court released him on Sh500 fine and bonded him to be of good behaviour for two years before being released to his mother, Ann Sundstrom.

The mother later told The Washington Post that "God is great, as justice has been done." Karugu's stint lasted only two years. He resigned on June 2, 1982 in unclear circumstances. At the time, there were 19 white High Court judges.

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