Death sentence for four who lynched 'witches' upheld

Rebecca Gesare in tears at the site where her mother Kwamboka Oriera was set ablaze by villagers on suspicion of engaging in witchcraft in Kisii County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

The Court of Appeal has upheld the death sentence imposed on four who lynched suspected witches in Getenge, Kisii County.

A three-judge-bench said the graphic nature in which two suspected witches were butchered called for the deterrent sentence delivered by the High Court in Kisii against Dennis Aswera, Amos Bichange, Bichange Omwancha and Fred Okeko on July 12, 2016.

“Rael Mokua and Isabella Nyaboke, daughters of the victims, witnessed the horrific murders of their mothers. They witnessed as Okeko attacked their mothers with a machete, Aswera provided matchsticks, Bichange provided petrol while Omwanca provided the tyres that they used to lynch them,” according to the judgment by justices Hellon Omondi, Patrick Kiage and Francis Tuiyott.

It added: “We, therefore, affirm the death sentence and direct that in the event the sentence is commuted to life imprisonment, the four must never be released to blight the safety of the happy and the free. They should be held for the remainder of their natural lives with no possibility of parole.”

The judges termed the lynching of the victims as a product of “pockets of deep darkness and superstition in an age where reason and enlightenment are taken for granted”.

While agreeing with the prosecution, the judges said it proved that the manner in which the crime was committed is a study in rank malice, premeditation and murderous intent. 

In their appeal, the four said they were not positively identified at the crime scene and that the sentence meted on them was harsh and excessive being first-time offenders.

They argued that since the two victims died in the fire, there was a possibility that the smoke from the burning tyres could have led to an error in their identification.

The State rebutted these claims saying the quartet was well known by witnesses in the case as being close relatives and there was low likelihood they could be mistaken.