Three police officers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 24 years to the death penalty in Kenya on Friday after being found guilty of three counts of murder with torture, including the murder of a lawyer, in July in 2016.
Attorney Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri disappeared on 23 June 2016 after a hearing at a Nairobi suburban court. Their mutilated bodies were found a week later in the Ol Donyo Sabuk river, southeast of the capital.
“The court considered this murder to be extremely repulsive, with meticulous planning and execution,” Judge Jessie Lesiit told the Nairobi court on Friday.
The murders of the three men, which were preceded by torture, had stirred great emotion in the country and prompted the Kenya Bar Association to call a week-long judicial strike.
The young lawyer’s client, a motorcycle taxi driver, accused police of harassing and intimidating him into dropping a complaint against a senior law enforcement official he said shot dead without cause in April 2015.
According to the Kenyan press, Me Kimani’s wrists were bound, three of his fingers were cut off and his eyes gouged out.
Fredrick Leliman, a police officer, was sentenced to death. “The first accused, a police officer hired to protect life, acted in flagrant abuse of his position,” Judge Lesiit said. Stephen Cheburet and Sylvia Wanjiku, both also police officers, were sentenced to 30 and 24 years in prison respectively. A fourth person, Peter Ngugi, who helped police dispose of the bodies, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In July, Judge Jessie Lessit said that “based on the evidence presented, there is no reasonable conclusion other than her guilt.”
The four convicts announced that they would appeal the decision.
Although the death penalty is enshrined in Kenyan law, the last execution in the East African country was in 1987. Presidential death sentences have been commuted in recent years.
The Kenyan police are regularly accused of extrajudicial executions by Kenyan and international human rights organizations.
Kenya’s President-elect William Ruto on October 16 announced the disbanding of the feared Special Services Unit (SSU), a police unit established 20 years ago that has come under fire from critics after cases of disappearances and murders. The head of state also promised a major overhaul of the police force.