West News Wire: For the 2016 murder of human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, a Kenyan court has sentenced a retired police officer, two active ones, and their civilian informant to lengthy prison terms.
According to the judge, Jessie Lessit, “the court deems the murder exceedingly heinous with its precise design and execution.”
Shortly after reporting police abuse, Kimani, his client Josephat Mwendwa, and his driver Joseph Muiruri were all killed.
During a traffic check in 2015, Mwendwa, a motorbike taxi driver, claimed that the main defendant, Frederick Leliman, shot him without cause. Kimani was employed by International Justice Mission at the time of his passing, a global organization that promotes legal rights and aids in the investigation and documentation of police abuse and killings.
Their bodies were later recovered from a river outside the capital Nairobi. The case caused outrage in Kenya, where police have faced frequent allegations of brutality and extrajudicial killings but are almost never charged.
Kimani’s body was found with wrists bound with rope. Three of his fingers had been chopped off and his eyes appeared to have been gouged out.
The judge singled out Leliman for acting “in flagrant abuse of his office” and masterminding the murder.
He was sentenced to death by the court, however, Kenya usually commuted death sentences to life in prison and has not carried out any executions since 1987.
The two serving police officers, Stephen Cheburet and Sylvia Wanjiku, and their civilian informant, Peter Ngugi, were given prison sentences ranging from 20 to 30 years.
Cliff Ombeta, a lawyer for the three officers, told AFP that all would appeal the sentencing. “This judgement cannot stand the test of any court of appeal judges,” he said.
In July last year, a high court judge had found three officers, including a woman, as well as a police informer guilty, of murder. A fourth policeman was acquitted.
The police have said they take action against any officer accused of brutality, while the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a body set up to probe cases of police brutality, investigates such cases and recommends them for prosecution.
However, police authorities have been accused of running hit squads targeting those, including activists and lawyers, investigating alleged rights abuses by officers.
In October, Kenya’s new President William Ruto disbanded a feared 20-year-old police unit accused of extrajudicial killings and pledged an overhaul of the security sector.
Prosecutors also announced in October they would charge police with crimes against humanity over a deadly crackdown on post-election protests in 2017, a landmark decision hailed by the UN’s rights chief Volker Turk.