The speedy investigations into the murders of Sharon Otieno and Monica Kimani have confounded a nation accustomed to lacklustre probes, leading to a pile of unresolved murder cases stretching back to 1988, when British tourist Julie Ward was butchered.
Julie was last seen alive on September 6, in the company of an Australian friend, Dr Glen Burns at the Maasai Mara game reserve where their jeep broke down, forcing Burns to travel back to Nairobi.
After the car was fixed, the Briton drove to Sand River camp to recover her camping equipment the following day. It is there that she was allegedly raped and murdered and the body set on fire.
Simon Makallah, formerly head warden at the game reserve was initially identified as a suspect, but cleared 10 years later. Julie’s father, John Ward, spent millions of shillings in such of justice for her murder.
Fast forward, few days after Sharon and Monica were killed, detectives swung into action, conducting preliminary investigations that led to arrests.
Whether the arrests eventually end with successful convictions is a debate for another day.
But relying on circumstantial evidence, police investigators have demonstrated that it is possible to nail the killers of Sharon and Monica against a backdrop of high acquittal and low conviction rates.
Judges and magistrates never tire of reminding police to be thorough before rushing to courts. Weak evidence leads to acquittals and sometimes the conviction of wrong people.
There is hope however, that the lethargic trend might change to the disadvantage of perpetrators of crime following the appointment of George Kinoti to the helm of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and installing of Noordin Haji as the new Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
The duo have pledged closer collaboration in order to build watertight cases in a bid to return to the glorious days of DCI, when the likes of Chief Inspector Timothy Kamunde could single-handedly stop criminals in their tracks.
“Timothy, Chief Inspector, Kamunde” as he fondly introduced himself, was in charge of ruthless police squads that made life tough for criminals.
The diminutive detective was reputed to have the ear and confidence of retired President Daniel arap Moi.
Gone are those days when DCI was famed for cracking complex murders, save for those with ‘certain interests’. Over the years, the investigative wing of the police gradually became ineffective, thanks to corruption and poor leadership.
“Working together and directing police would be very important, including how a decision to charge is made so that we don’t end up with miscarriage of justice,” said Haji.
Kinoti seems to have rejuvenated his team during the short stint in office. “There is a free hand on investigations, the boss (Kinoti) is encouraging us to give our best… he is constantly in touch with the officers on the ground,” reveals a Flying Squad officer.
Another detective based in Migori expressed similar sentiments, saying unlike his predecessors, their new boss does not interfere by pushing them to take certain lines of investigations.
“At least work is fulfilling, there is freedom and no interference in investigations,” said the detective based in Migori since 2014.
Experts in crime attribute the renewed energy to change of guard at the helm.
“The current DCI has effectively sealed gaps that occasion laxity and inaction on such cases by detectives. Criminals are unlikely to compromise officers and have their way when objectives of building up a case file are laid out,” observes Munene Mugambi, a criminologist and founding chairman of the Kenya Professional Society of Criminology (KEPSOC).
On his part, Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) executive director Peter Kiama opts for a wait-and-see attitude, arguing that it is too early for positive appraisal.
He challenges Kinoti to disapprove critics and pessimists by getting convictions. “In terms of leadership, we are beginning to see an impetus that is likely to translate into successful convictions.
There is objectivity, coupled with better coordination and public communication. However the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” notes Kiama.
He says police have no excuse of failure since they are sufficiently funded, stating that: “Given the resources at their disposal, police must be on top of investigations, we don’t expect complacency.”
Kinoti was appointed in January. He came in at a time when the DCI was under scrutiny for ineffective investigation and unsuccessfully prosecution of cases.
He personally took charge of investigations into the murder of Sharon Otieno, a university student and girlfriend to Migori governor Okoth Obado, who is now in custody together with his aides Michael Oyamo and Caspal Obiero; his bodyguard Elvis Omondi; taxi driver Jack Gombe and former Kanyadoto MCA Lawrence Mula.
The DCI boss ordered the arrest and thorough grilling of TV broadcaster Jacque Maribe whose boyfriend Joseph Kuria Irungu alias Jowi is linked to the murder of Monica Kimani. Another person of interest is Brian Kasaine, Maribe’s neigbour at Royal Park apartments in Lang’ata.
Just like the British tourist, when Mercy Keino, Careen Chepchumba, Janet Wangui and Carol Ngumbu died under unclear circumstances, nothing much came out of subsequent probes that quietly fizzled out as soon as tears of the bereaved dried up.
Mercy died in January 2011. The body of the 25-year-old was found dumped along Waiyaki Way. She had attended a party at Wasini Luxury Homes along Church Road.
Careen was found dead in her apartment at Kilimani’s Santonia Apartments in February 2012.
Janet was last May shot dead by police officers on patrol under controversial circumstances. She was in the company of her nephew Bernard Chege, who survived.
A few days to the General Election of August 8, Carol Ngumbu was found murdered alongside the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission ICT manager Chris Msando.
Police are yet to identify the killers of Mercy, Careen, Janet and Carol. It is either investigations were mismanaged or there was no desire to conduct thorough enquiries, which brings into play the relevance the yet to be established National Coroners Service.
On June 21, 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the National Coroners Services Act that paved way for the creation of National Coroners Service, whose functions, among others, are to ensure that all deaths are properly investigated and in a timely manner.
The service that shall be headed by a Coroner-General will be open to complaints of deaths as a result of violence, misadventure, negligence, misconduct or malpractice. It will also investigate sudden and unexpected deaths, besides probing into those caused by sicknesses not treated by a qualified medical practitioner.
A year later, the office of the coroner is yet to be established as the country continues to witness a spate of murders - a trend Kinoti promised to end.
“Investigations require honesty, commitment and a high level of professionalism,” the DCI chief told this writer in a previous interview.
In the past, police have dragged their feet, leaving room for murderers to tamper with evidence or disappear without trace.
Speed and precision are hallmarks of good, tradition investigation, as exhibited in the murder probes of Sharon and Monica. Though motives remain unclear, investigators are optimistic of nailing the killers of the two women, both in their 20s.
Kinoti is certain the plot to kill Sharon was hatched by some of the six individuals in custody. Her mutilated body was found on September 4 in a thicket in Oyugis, a day after she was abducted alongside journalist Barack Oduor
“Between three to five people who knew about Sharon’s murder were to be killed. Luckily, we uncovered the conspiracy,” Kinoti told The Nairobian in a previous interview. He is certain that they have a watertight case.
Detectives also believe that Irungu had a hand in the killing of Monica. The body of the Juba-based businesswoman was found in a bathtub at her Lumaria Gardens apartment on September 20. Her throat was slit, mouth sealed with a tape, hands tied from behind and legs tied together.
Irungu’s TV anchor fiancée Jacque Maribe is also in custody alongside Brian Kasaine, her neighbour at Royal Park apartments. Detectives say the two gave conflicting and contradicting statements about gun wounds Irungu sustained in controversial circumstances.
Since taking over, Kinoti has demonstrated zeal, winning rare plaudits from Kenyans. When high-profile murders are not resolved expeditiously and to their logical conclusion, public confidence erodes.
Munene is challenging police to live to the old maxim of ‘pursuing and assembling evidence to either implicate the guilty or exonerate the innocent’.
A former police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity says State sanctioned killings are difficult to crack.
“Do you expect police to investigate and expose themselves?” posed the ex-cop without elaborating further.
According to Munene, motives of most murders range from cover-ups, elimination of witnesses to destruction of evidence.
“To reduce the number of these unfortunate incidences, there is need to address causes of other crimes in society that lead to killing of persons as cover-ups,” argues the criminologist.
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