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10 to hang for lynching innocent KDF man and two others

What started as an alarm by some villagers that cattle thieves had been spotted in Mwanche village in Migori County led to the lynching of three innocent men by a mob on the night of August 12, 2013.

And now, almost four years later, a court has ruled that 10 men who were part of the mob be sent to the gallows for murder.

The events of that dark night claimed the life of Elikana Gondi Syongoh, a chief accountant at the Department of Defence, his driver Moses Magiri Amek and his farmhand Simon Gombe.

The three were mistaken for cattle rustlers, beaten up before they were set ablaze in Mr Syongoh’s pick up vehice. Two were burnt beyond recognition.

ABSCONDED TRIAL

Twelve people were arrested following the incident then charged. Two absconded trial and the rest were found to have played a role in the brutal deaths.

David Ochieng Ajwang, Nicholas Otunga Otieno, Daniel Owino Oganyo, Julius Makambo Obade, Kennedy Kisa Omweri, Julius Otieno Deya, Janes Ogalo Oketch Olendo, Joseph Odhiambo Majiwa, Joseph Keya Omweri and Paul Koi Odeko killed the three innocent men and some were even found with items that were looted from the deceased — according to a judgement by Mr Justice David Majanja.

The judgement, which was delivered in Migori on April 5 and published by the Kenya Law Reports Monday, brings a close to a case where Mr Syongoh, an industrious farmer who had travelled to buy quails at around 8pm that night, met a cruel death.

Justice Majanja, after considering the evidence of 23 witnessed, concluded that there was no doubt that the 10 were at the scene of the incident and that they took part in the killings.

“The savage way the accused inflicted the injuries on the deceased leave no doubt that they were inflicted with intent to cause grievous harm or death,” the judge states.

CUT HAND WITH PANGA

David Ochieng, for instance, was seen cutting the left hand of the driver with a panga.

“The driver nevertheless continued driving until he stopped the car at the junction of the main road headed to Migori. After the car stopped Joseph Odhiambo began pulling the driver and passengers out of car with the help of Nicholas Otunga,” states Justice Majanja in his judgement.

The court was told that Paul Koi was spotted by villagers tying Mr Syongoh’s farmhand with a rope then dragging him to the scene where the others were being beaten. The farmhand had tried to run away from the scene.

David Ochieng was also seen striking Mr Syongoh on the back with a panga.

Moreover, Joseph Keya was found with two jackets stolen from the deceased men days after the gruesome killings.

A Chloride Exide battery that had been stolen from Mr Syongoh’s vehicle was also found in the home of Kennedy Kisa.

ACCOSTED BY VILLAGERS

Mr Nerbert Lubanga, the man who had sold Mr Syongoh and his two companions before they drove off only to be accosted by villagers shortly afterwards, told the court that he had escorted the men to their car then returned home.

“As he was walking back home, he started hearing screams from Migingo. Since he was with his children, he decided to drop them home,” the judgement states.

Mr Lubanga testified that when he tried to access the scene where the three had been waylaid to tell the residents that they were not thieves, he was also beaten up.

“As someone was trying to force him to sit down, another person pushed him and he fell and rolled into the nearby bushes whereupon he fled the scene,” Justice Majanja wrote of Mr Lubanga’s testimony.

After the murders, police conducted investigations and arrested the accused people and the case started at the High Court in Kisii before being transferred to Migori.

Because the events happened at night, the accused argued in court that no one could recognise them so well as to pin them down as the perpetrators.

But Justice Majanja thought otherwise.

KNEW EACH OTHER

“The witnesses and accused knew each other as they were from the same village. During the incident, the witnesses had the opportunity (to) interact with the accused closely because they knew each other,” said the judge.

And while responding to accusations that they were at the scene of crime, each of the accused said he was not at the place, providing various reasons from being sick to being at a different area. The judge dismissed their alibis.

“Their defences lack any merit as the different prosecution witnesses placed them at the scene and even stated clearly what part they played in the whole ordeal and what type of weapon they used to assault the deceased,” Justice Majanja observed.

He added: “I also found the testimony of John Ojok Deyangwa [who told the court that he witnessed the killings] credible. He was (a) fairly old man and there was no reason for him to lie in order to implicate the accused. Besides, no grudge, ill-will or malice against the accused was suggested to him in cross-examination.”

‘SEAMLESS ACCOUNT’

Noting that the evidence offered a “seamless and logical account” of the events of that night, the judge used the doctrine of common intention — which states that if a person kills another in the presence of the rest then all are culpable — to convict the accused of murder.

“The accused, who were all present, wilfully participated in the unlawful acts and none of them disassociated themselves. They all acted in concert with common intention to execute an unlawful purpose which had fatal consequences,” ruled Justice Majanja.

The death of Mr Syongoh shook the nation as many condemned the brutal manner in which he was murdered. Villagers eulogised him as a hero who changed the face of his home area. He was a brother of Zaddock Madiri, a former Gwasii MP.

Residents told Nation in 2013 that the butchered man had helped pay fees for poor residents and had dug and stocked four fish ponds from where neighbours and friends got tilapia fish.

Mr Syongoh, who had employed 15 people in his farm, had also had dug a big water pan from which the community drew water during the dry seasons.