They had a common aim to kill, High Court rules as four nailed for murders

The widows, Rebbecca Wanja, wife to deceased Josaphat Mwanga and Hannah Kimani wife to the late Willie Kimani during the ruling of the murder case on July 22, 2022. [Esther Jeruto, Standard]

It was justice at last after three police officers and a civilian who killed lawyer Willy Kimani, his client and a taxi driver were found guilty.

Lady Justice Jessie Lessit did not mince her words when she convicted the officers Fredrick ole Leliman, Stephen Morogo, Sylvia Wanjohi and civilian Peter Ngugi, ruling that it was so heartless for them to subject the deceased to painful torture and death in an open field.

“After considering the totality of the evidence, there is no any other reasonable finding except that the four accused persons are guilty of the brutal murder of the three. Their actions were brutal for which they must suffer the consequences,” ruled Lessit.

Her decision, after six years, was a payback for the four convicts who are now facing the maximum death penalty for the killing of a lawyer whose only crime was representing a client seeking protection from police misuse of power and a taxi driver who knew nothing about the dispute.

The fifth accused, Leonard Mwangi, was however lucky after the judge found that the evidence did not connect him to the murder and acquitted him. For the remaining four, Justice Lessit ruled that the circumstantial evidence proved they had common intention to kill Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri on the night of June 23 2016 in Soweto area within Mlolongo, Machakos County.

Same fate

Justice Lessit found that Leliman was the architect of the plot to eliminate the three and recruited his co-accused who are now going to suffer the same fate as principle offenders in the horrific murder.

Justice Lessit revisited the incident that led to the extra-judicial killings. “It started when Leliman developed a personal vendetta against the second deceased (Mwenda) and hatched the plot to eliminate him for reporting him to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority,” ruled Lessit.

She recreated evidence of how the dispute started in April 2015 when Leliman shot and arrested Mwenda, who at the time was a motorcycle rider and in a bid to cover up the shooting, the officer took to court and had him charged with being in possession of bhang, resisting arrest and gambling.

Mwenda was aggrieved and reported the matter to IPOA and sought help from the International Justice Mission (IJM) for fear of his life.

Leliman then felt his job was in danger after IPOA took up the matter and he was summoned for questioning. IJM also came on board and tasked lawyer Kimani to defend Mwenda in the case at Mavoko Law Courts.

Then came the fateful day of June 23 2016 when Kimani hired the taxi driver to take them to Mavoko Court for hearing of Mwenda’s case.

“The phone data records, witness testimonies and confession by the fifth accused (Ngugi) showed that the three were waylaid after leaving the Mavoko Courts and abducted. They were then taken to Syokimau Police Post and bundled in the cells without booking,” ruled Lessit.

Properly recorded

Although Ngugi’s confession was contested by the accused persons, Justice Lessit ruled that it was properly recorded and used it to analyse the evidence which convinced her the accused were guilty of murder.

In any case, the judge ruled that other witness statements corroborated what Ngugi had confessed which proved their well calculated plan to kill the three which could have passed were it not for technology and phone data which placed the four accused at the centre of the murder.

Ngugi, who was a police informer at the time, had in his confession stated that he was tasked by Leliman to track Kimani, Mwenda and the driver and report all their movements.

He then identified the taxi the deceased were using and alerted Leliman and Morogo who then abducted them and instructed Ngugi to drive the taxi and dispose it in Meru.

“It has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the deceased were kidnapped from Mavoko Law Courts by the accused persons. I have no reason to believe that Ngugi’s confession was not the true account of what happened,” ruled Lessit.

The judge was convinced by witness testimonies that later that night, Leliman and Moroto went back to Syokimau Police Post where they removed the three deceased and bundled them in their car boot before taking them to the killing field.

According to Justice Lessit, the post-mortem report confirmed the three died from injuries suffered from blunt objects which crushed their skulls and strangulation.

From the killing field, the killers then stashed the bodies in sacks and took them to Ol Donyo Sabuk River where they were dumped.

“It was established that even after committing the murder, Leliman and his wife organised a party for the team where they drunk and celebrated till morning for a job well done,” ruled Lessit.

For Leliman, Justice Lessit ruled that he was the chief offender and dismissed his defence that he was at his house on the day of the murder. According to the judge, the former senior Administration Police officer was present at all stages in executing the murder and cannot run away from his sins.

“He was at Mlololongo Police Station where he proceeded to Mavoko Law Courts for the abduction, took the three to Syokimanu and locked them up, took them out of the cells at night before proceedings to an open field to kill them,” ruled Lessit.

For Morogo and Ngugi, Justice Lessit ruled that they were the principal planners and executors of the murder after being recruited by Leliman.

“They acted with common intention to eliminate the three persons and were part of the kidnapping at Mavoko Law Courts. They were even present at the killing field and argued for three hours whether to kill them and later helped to transport the bodies for disposal,” ruled Lessit.

Missing details

On Ms Wanjohi, the judge ruled that her action of locking up Kimani, Mwenda and Muiruri when they were taken to Syokimau Police Post and failing to book them in the Occurrence Book (OB) showed that she had a common intention to commit the murder.

Justice Lessit ruled that had Wanjohi acted professionally by booking the accused, she could have saved the lives of the three.

“What she did proves that she had knowledge of the planned murder. She then decided to hide the facts by lying that the three were not taken to the station and even if her role was only to aid the perpetrators, she is as well guilty of the offence of murder,” ruled Lessit.

The judge added that although Morogo, Ngugi and Wanjohi had no direct dispute with Mwenda leading to the murder, they were part of the plan when they allowed Leliman to use them to achieve his intention of killing the three.

Justice Lessit directed that the matter be mentioned on September 23 when the court will assess the victim impact report and give the convict opportunity to mitigate before passing the sentence.