A missing heart: Six-year criminal trial, acquittal of medic and son

Former Nairobi Provincial Police boss Timothy Mwandi Muumbo. [Courtesy]

Former Nairobi Provincial Police boss Timothy Mwandi Muumbo had a big heart.

One witness said that it was around 600 grams (or 0.6 kilogrammes) and could not fit in an ordinary specimen container. It was, instead put in a sealable polythene bag.

This missing heart was the root cause of former Chief Government pathologist Moses Njue and his son Lamuel Anasha Mureithi being charged in court.

The State pressed three counts against Njue and Mureithi, including destroying evidence, stealing, and illegal removal of parts of a human body.

The State pursued a line that the two had stolen a heart during a post-mortem at Lee Funeral Home. That they jointly destroyed a heart they had allegedly stolen knowing that it would be evidence in judicial proceedings.

A second charge was that the two had stolen a heart which they obtained by the virtue of their profession as a pathologist and an assistant to the pathologist.

In the third count, the prosecution claimed they had removed the heart of a body before it was received into an approved school of anatomy. The court found Lee Funeral Home was not an approved school of anatomy.

In the end, the two were acquitted on October 17 from what Milimani Chief Magistrate Wendy Micheni said to have been hastily drafted charges. Njue and Anasha, she said, were sacrificial lambs and the charges were meant to please someone.

Muumbo's body lay on the cold slab, naked and waiting in silence for science to tell his children and kin why death beckoned him. As the dead tell no tale, the only way of speaking was the postmortem which quickly turned into doubts and later criminal charges.

The controversy over what killed Muumbo was the start of the six years of the criminal trial against one of Kenya's best-known and outspoken former chief government pathologists. Dr Njue and his son were charged in 2016.

The former police chief's children Caroline Muumbo and Alex Muumbo had hired Njue to represent them during the post-mortem. They, however, turned tables on him after lodging a complaint that their father's heart was stolen.

"It is unfortunate that the accused who was brought in by PW8 and PW9 found himself on the receiving end. The impression one gets from the hastily drawn and defective charges is that someone needed to be a sacrificial lamb to appease certain quarters or the public interest," said Micheni.

On June 2, 2015, the then 87-year-old man was rushed to Nairobi Hospital by his son Billy. He was pronounced dead and transferred to the Lee Funeral Home.

Former Chief Government pathologist Moses Njue in court in 2015. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

However, there was suspicion about the cause of his death. Although pathologists concluded that he died out of a heart attack, some of his children alleged foul play. They claimed he was poisoned.

The prosecution's star witness in the case was Paul Chege. He testified that he is a supervisor at Lee Funeral Home.

Chege narrated that on the night of June 2, 2016, he was called by the Nairobi Hospital casualty section and was informed that a patient had died. He was introduced by a nurse to Billy Mbuvi, a son of the deceased.

He took the body of the policeman to the morgue accompanied by Mbuvi and someone else. Chege testified that he refrigerated the body waiting for instructions from the family.

First witness

Fast forward to June 25, the day the autopsy was done. In the charge sheet, Njue and Anasha were accused of stealing the heart on this day.

The first witness told the court that in the autopsy room, there was Dr Peter Ndegwa who was representing the government, Dr Njue, and a third person who was said to be Anasha. Chege, who is a mortician told the court that Njue introduced the third person as his personal assistant.

Dr Ndegwa did the procedure, the court heard. Meanwhile, Njue was said to be observing while his assistant was taking notes. According to Chege, they excised parts of the kidney, liver and stomach and their content for further analysis.

However, the conclusion was that Muumbo died of a heart attack. "Two doctors found that the main cause of death was heart failure due to heart attack," testified Chege. He claimed that at one point, Dr Njue asked for the whole heart.

Chege stated that later after the autopsy and briefing the family, they stored the heart in a fridge. This, the witness said, followed a call from the doctor informing them that it would be picked up on June 26. He claimed that the following day, the personal assistant allegedly came and spoke to his colleague Arnold Omondi. Omondi, Chege said, called him and allegedly handed him the heart. According to the witness, it must have been 600 grams. It then took four months before the second autopsy was done.

This time around it was Dr Ndegwa, Dr Njue, Dr Emily Rogena, and Dr Dorothy Njeru. There was also the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) homicide detectives.

According to Chege, they realised that the heart was missing. "Dr Njue said he did not remember taking the samples," he claimed, adding that they had to remind him the autopsy had been done on a Thursday as the doctor was allegedly insisting it was on a weekend and he was not around Nairobi.

No paper trail

Pressed on if he knew the person he gave the heart, the mortician claimed it was Njue's PA. Asked if there was any paper trail, he replied there was none.

Njue's lawyer also asked the witness if the morgue had any CCTV footage to show that the PA turned up or the handover. He replied that he had not seen any footage implicating the doctor or his son.

At the same time, he said, it is normal practice for doctors or pathologists who carried out autopsies at Lee to carry samples with them.

Moses Njue's son Lemuel Mureithi at Milimani Law Courts in 2018. [George Njunge, Standard]

"They do not bring them back. It does not mean they have stolen. Taking does not constitute theft. They normally give a report on the sample," Chege said adding that some of the samples taken from the deceased went to the government chemist and were also not returned. The government chemist was said to have taken the liver, kidney and stomach.

He continued: "Dr Njue did not personally come to take the heart. I gave the heart to a person I did not know. The person did not sign anywhere."

The second witness was Ongori Ochwai. He said he was an anatomy technician. Ochwai told the court he was also present and that Njue introduced his PA as his son. He claimed the heart was stored in polythene paper with a seal.

The following day

Ochwai said he had known Njue for seven years. He too told the court that Njue said he would pick the heart the following day.

Magistrate Micheni observed that from their testimony, the heart did not leave Lee on June 25, 2015, as the state had alleged. "It cannot be true that either the accused person stole the heart during post-mortem on June 25, 2015," said Micheni.

The state presented five witnesses: Chege, Ochwai, Ndegwa and Police Constable John Biko. Biko told the court that he was attached to the morgue for post-mortem purposes. Njue was at one point his boss.

The officer confirmed that the heart was removed alongside other parts for further tests. According to him, this followed a family disagreement over the cause of death. He testified that the parts he was to forward to the government chemist were equally stored as the autopsy went into the night.

On June 26, the court heard that the officer picked the parts in a carton and went to the City Mortuary with them for testing by the government chemist. He said he saw the mortician pack the heart. "It was enlarged, a very big one. It was abnormal," he said adding that it was George who packed the heart.

Dr Rogena was another witness. She told the court that she was requested by Prof Munyasya to represent him at the repeat post-mortem. She testified that they were informed that the former police chief died out of a heart attack.

According to her, she did not know where the heart was. "Repeat exercise was done after four months from the first one, on September 18, 2016, four months later," she testified.

The doctor revealed to the court that whenever a part is taken for a specific reason, it is not returned. "Like those we take for histology, we don't return them there. We examine and then whatever little is left, there is a disposal system whenever we go," said Rogena.

Repeat autopsy

Dr Ndegwa also took the stand as a witness. He told the court that the repeat autopsy was requested by Caroline Muumbo, the deceased's daughter.

From left, Lemuel Muriithi, Evans Nyagaka, Lucy Kanyari and Moses Njue before Nyeri Senior Principal Magistrate Philip Mutua on May 15, 2019. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

According to him, he heard that someone had taken the heart but that he was not aware if it was returned. In the exercise, he said, he was representing the government and Mbuvi. He said he never saw Njue take the heart.

Dr Njeru also testified. She told the court that then DCI's serious crimes boss asked her to represent him in the second round of pathology. According to her, they could not conclude the cause of death as the heart was missing.

Caroline and Munyasia were added as witnesses. Caroline, a lawyer told the court that she heard Dr Ndegwa saying it was Dr Njue who took the heart. Asked why Dr Ndegwa was not charged, as he was also present in the autopsy room, she said she does not know.

Munyasia admitted that he hired Dr Njue. According to him, he suspected there was foul play as Njue allegedly did not present his report on the cause of death within a week as he had allegedly promised.

According to him, Njue only acted when a lawyer wrote a demand letter to him. He, however, also admitted that he never saw him cart away the heart, as he was not in the premises.

Whatever killed Muumbo remains a mystery to some of his children. Maybe the heart could have told them something to close the chapter. However, it was missing. Whoever took it and why remains a mystery too. But the court concluded it was not Njue and his son.

"Basically, it appears those charges were brought because of suspicions within the Muumbo family. The court notes that the cause of death was not conclusive... Sadly the evidence was insufficient and there is no reason to place the accused on their defence," she said.

The magistrate said that it was time to allow the man to rest in peace finally. Micheni said: "It is now seven years down the line and the late Timothy Muumbo should be left to rest in peace."

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