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Wrongfully convicted man returns home after 20 years to grown-up children, missing wife

TURNING POINT
By Nathan Ochunge | December 26th 2021 | 4 min read

A middle-aged man from Essaba village, Emuhaya in Vihiga County could not hide his joy when he returned home after spending 20 years behind bars for robbery with violence charges.

Peter Nanjelo, 45, returned home to adult children and a missing wife. Worse, he swears he was jailed out of ignorance.

“My prayers were answered and I was set free at last. But I went home only to find that my wife was long gone leaving behind the two children we sired together. My children who are now adults and my relatives welcomed me home,” Nanjelo told The Nairobian.

His son Philip, 24, who he left aged just four years, never thought he would see his father alive again.

“For the 20 years I had lived without seeing my dad, I had given up since he was set to die. We received information that his death sentence had been reversed to life imprisonment but whenever we visited him, the prison warders turned us away and denied us the chance to see him. This was the most painful moment in my life,” he said.

“I am happy to have met my father alive and life will now start afresh since there is hope for good things to come. I want to thank God for keeping him safe to this day for our sake,” he said.

Nanjelo, then 25, was a budding businessman with a young family. His daughter was just 12 months old. At the time, he was dealing in leather products in Nairobi’s industrial area but also supplied to Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa.

December 1, 2001 is a day he will never forget.

“Everything happened like a movie to me as I did not know what was happening.

I was in Nakuru town when a dozen police officers armed with AK-47 rifles pounced on me,” he told The Nairobian.

He was accused of being ring leader of a criminal gang linked to rampant robbery with violence incidents in Nakuru town and its environs.

Speaking at his Essaba village home, the father-of-two said he is convinced he was wrongfully arrested.

While waiting for payments from his Asian clients, Nanjelo claims that he dodged a cousin he had travelled and stayed with for one night, to put up at a friend.

“It was around 5 pm when I suddenly bumped into a battalion of police officers in Nakuru CBD and I remember one of them shouting ‘Ndio huyu tunatafuta’ (Here is the one we are looking for),” said Nanjelo, but, “The officers pounced on me with kicks and blows, handcuffed and took me to Nakuru Central Police station.”

For the next 18 days, he was remanded and later charged with eight counts, three of them related to robbery with violence.

Nanjelo was accused robbing two people, an Asian and an African, unspecified amount of money and a car belonging to another Asian, which it was claimed he used to escape from police.

“What put me in trouble is the police officer who misled me to accept the charges so I would be set free only to be slapped with a death sentence. By accepting the charges, I had dug my own grave. I forgive the cop if at all he is still alive,” Nanjelo said.

After a 13- month hearing, he was sentenced to death on February 21, 2003  and given 14 days to appeal. But the appeal was dismissed and he was taken to Kamiti Maximum Prison.

“When you are on the execution block, there is no hope that you will see tomorrow and all you are waiting for is when your time to be hanged will come. This was a time I had finished all the appeals up to the Court of Appeal,” said Nanjelo.

He was later moved to Naivasha Maximum Prison (condemned block) and again back to the Execution block at Kamiti. All the while, Nanjelo avers that his family were unaware of his fate. There were few mobile phones then.

“The most painful part was my young family that I had left with no one to look after since I was the sole breadwinner. I felt that life had come to an end as everything was against me. Back home my wife was jobless and had two kids to take care of,” said Nanjelo.

He added: “Life in prison was hard to cope with. I was mistreated by my fellow convicts, tortured by prison warders   and even though I have earned my freedom, it will take time for me to heal and adjust. The saddest part is that they denied us freedom to see our family members whenever they came to visit.”

He got some reprieve in 2009 when President Mwai Kibaki commuted their sentences to life imprisonment.

It gave him hope though his freedom was still curtailed. All the same, his attitude changed and he enrolled for a tailoring course and guidance and counselling sessions.

After being moved to various prisons, lady luck smiled on him after a 2016 petition to Chief Justice Emeritus David Maraga in which he challenged the constitutionality of his jail term saw it reviewed.

This is after a probation report indicated he had reformed and was serving as a trustee in prison.

Nanjelo is planning to seek legal redress over wrongful arrest and detention once he puts his family affairs in order.

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