Court Finds Three Police Officers Guilty of Murder

By Sarah Nyakio

Three police officers have been found guilty of murdering human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri six years after their bodies were found in Ol Donyo Sabuk river.

Justice Jessie Lessit found police officers Fredrick Leliman, Stephen Cheburet and Sylvia Wanjiku as well as police informer Peter Ngugi guilty of murdering the three on 23 June 2016.

A fourth police officer, Leonard Mwangi, was acquitted.

During the judgement hearing on 22 July 2022, Justice Lessit revealed in gruesome detail how Willie, who worked for International Justice Mission (IJM), was abducted while leaving Mavoko law courts in Nairobi and tortured and killed along with Mwenda and Muiruri. At the time Kimani was representing Mwenda, who had been shot and injured by police.

Justice Lessit has analyzed a total of 117 exhibits and evidence given by 46 prosecution witnesses and 34 defence witnesses to reach her decision.

The judge had told the court that she had written more than 6,000 pages of proceedings since the trial started and it is the biggest file in her career.

Some of the crucial exhibits the judge has analyzed include phone data records, mobile phone companies’ cell sites analysis and DNA samples of the accused persons.

IMLU staff members and other CSO members at Milimani Courts, Nairobi during Willie Kimani’s judgement on 22 July 2022.

The chronology of events since 2016:

April 10, 2015:  Josephat Mwenda is accidentally shot in the hand by police officer Fredrick Leliman after being stopped by the cop while riding his motorbike.

The Boda Boda rider is then charged falsely for resisting arrest- a decision that leads him to file a complaint with Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) 

December 14, 2015: Mwenda is arrested by Leliman and charged afresh with violating traffic laws.

February 4, 2016: International Justice Mission (IJM) takes over the case, and assigns it to lawyer Willie Kimani. 

February 24, 2016:  IJM seeks to put Mwenda under witness protection following incidents of threats and intimidation from officer Leliman.

Mwenda’s legal team faces challenges to put the bodaboda rider under witness protection as he is facing criminal charges.

March 16, 2016:  Leliman is summoned by IPOA over a complaint of misconduct.

April 2016: Kimani and Mwenda are detained after a court hearing in Mavoko by police officers.

The officers explain that they were interrogating them over a robbery case in Meru. The two are later released.

June 23, 2016: Lawyer Kimani, Mwenda and taxi driver- Muiruri are abducted after leaving court. The three are held in a police container at an AP camp 

June 24, 2016: IJM files a missing persons report as detectives begin investigations into their disappearance.

June 30 – July 1, 2016:  The bodies of three are found in a river in Ol Donyo Sabuk. 

July 1-5 2016:  The four officers are arrested and charged officially with murder on July 18.

August 23, 2016: Police informant Ngugi is arrested in connection with the murder and charged alongside the four officers

November 10, 2016 – 2022: The trial commences as the prosecution lines 44 witnesses to testify against the five.

July 22, 2022: Justice Jessie Lessit delivers the judgement. 

Also to note, one police officer found guilty and the one acquainted with the murder of rights lawyer Willie Kimani has been charged for the murder of a second victim.

Fredrick Leliman and Leonard Mwangi have also been charged with the murder of Peter Mutua Musyoka allegedly on June 2, 2016, at an unknown place in Machakos, they murdered Mutua.

Police killings have long been an issue in Kenya. The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) has documented 109 cases of police violation between January and July 2022 with Nairobi leading with the highest number of cases.