Preacher James Ng’ang’a walks scot-free in case of causing woman’s death
Inconsistencies by key prosecution witnesses in a case in which televangelist James Ng’ang’a of Neno Evangelism Centre was charged with causing the death of a woman by dangerous driving in 2015 led to his acquittal and that of three others by a Limuru court.
Chief Magistrate Godfrey Oduor, who has since been transferred to Nakuru, said the prosecution witnesses, presented to the court by the police, failed to place Mr Ng’ang’a at the scene of the accident, and therefore it could not be proved that he was driving the Range Rover when the crash happened.
In the ruling, which was read by Senior Principal Magistrate Karen Njalule on Monday, Mr Oduor said evidence from the four witnesses had a lot of discrepancies.
For instance, they did not say they had spotted the pastor at the scene when recording statements with the police, yet claimed they had when testifying in court.
The televangelist was charged three years ago with dangerous driving after his car crashed head-on into a Nissan March on July 26, 2015 at Manguo area in Limuru, killing Ms Mercy Njeri, who was a passenger in the Nissan.
Witnesses claimed Mr Ng’ang’a was the one behind the wheel, but another man, Mr Simon Kuria, later claimed he had been the one driving.
Mr Kuria, a Kenya Police Airwing inspector named Christopher Nzioka, and a police officer named Patrick Baya were the co-accused in the case.
A truck driver told the court that Mr Ng’ang’a’s car had overtaken him at high speed around the Kinungi area of the Nairobi-Naivasha highway.
It was heading towards Nairobi, and a man sitting at the back had rolled down his window and was waving other drivers off the road with what looked like a police radio. He said a few minutes later he arrived at the accident scene, where he identified Mr Ng’ang’a.
But Mr Oduor discredited the witness.
“After being cross-examined by the accused’s counsel, he said that he had seen the accused in Naivasha, yet at the scene of the accident, he was asking who the occupants of the vehicles (of the cars that were involved in the accidents) were, which was a contradiction,” said the judge, accusing the witness of “either concocting or exaggerating” his testimony.
Another witness said he was at the accident scene five minutes after it had happened. From about 10 metres away, he saw Mr Ng’ang’a, whom he had watched several times preaching on television, climb out of his mangled Range Rover and board a Subaru that sped off towards Nairobi.
A crowd had milled at the scene and was castigating Mr Ng’ang’a “for causing the accident”, said the witness, who requested the court to protect his identity.
He took photos of the scene and produced them in court as exhibits.
Another protected witness said he was walking home when he saw the accident happen. He then saw someone emerge from the side of the driver of the Range Rover car, and he recognised him as Pastor Ng’ang’a, whom he had first met during a religious crusade in Limuru a few months earlier, and also seen on TV.
But the judge on Monday said the third witness had said he only saw Mr Ng’ang’a get out of the car, yet the other witnesses had said the car had another passenger at the back. Also, the witness who took photos did not capture Mr Ng’ang’a at the scene, said the judge, and set all the accused free.
Pastor Ng’ang’a had all along denied the charges against him, which included dangerous driving, causing an accident and failing to report it, and causing the death of Ms Njeri.
He further denied giving false information to the police, conspiring to defeat justice, and driving an uninsured car or failing to display a certificate of insurance on the car.
His three co-accused, police inspectors Christopher Nzioka and Patrick Baya, and Simon Kuria, also denied conspiring to defeat justice and being part of an attempted cover-up.
Mr Kuria and Mr Nzioka were accused of giving false information to the police, while Mr Baya, who was the Tigoni police base commander, was accused of neglecting his duties.
The three were also accused of conspiring to defeat justice. Mr Ng’ang’a was released on a Sh1 million bond, the officers Sh100,000 each, and the alleged driver Sh500,000.
And then, away from the public limelight and media glare, the case dragged on for three years, until last Friday, when Chief Magistrate Godfrey Oduor stunned the small crowd at the Limuru Law Courts in a short ruling whose justification he said he would give on Monday.
The prosecution and the family of the deceased are considering lodging appeals.
Mr Ng’ang’a, a flamboyant, wealthy televangelist famous for his rock star guitar strums at his Neno Evangelism Centre in Nairobi, had been in the spotlight for all the good, bad, and downright ugly reasons, but this case threatened to derail his career.
For one, a victim lay dead, and, to make matters worse, he was being accused of trying to evade justice. The case went to court after the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Keriako Tobiko, directed that the four be charged as, he believed, they had committed criminal offenses.
And then the drama began. Mr Maina showed up in court claiming he was the one behind the wheel of Mr Ng’ang’a’s car, but an angry mob laughed him off and demanded that the preacher be presented in court and charged.
The pastor was arrested and taken to the traffic police headquarters before being locked up in a cell, but he refused to have his blood samples taken at the Government Chemist on the advice of his lawyer, Mr Cliff Ombeta.
Investigators wanted to use the blood samples for DNA tests in relation to the fatal accident, but the court declined to order him to do so, saying this would compromise the court’s neutrality.
Mr Ombeta, one of the most successful criminal lawyers in the country, later pulled out of the case for safety reasons, telling the court that his Mercedes Benz car had been slightly damaged by unknown people.
State counsel Catherine Mwaniki also complained at one time that supporters of Mr Ng’ang’a had attacked her team and asked the court to order him to refrain from commenting on the case during church services.