Trial of Thomas Cholmondeley in Full-Swing

November 15, 2006 In Outside's December issue, Joshua Hammer reports on the murder trial of Kenyan aristocrat Thomas Cholmondeley ("The Kenyan Cowboy," page 158), who has been accused of killing Robert Njoya, a black poacher found trespassing on his 50,000-acre Soysambu Ranch in Kenya's Great Rift Valley on May 10, 2006. One year earlier, Cholomondely, the great-grandson of the Third Lord Delamere, had shot and killed another black man—Samson ole Sisina, an undercover Kenyan Wildlife Services ranger—but had been discharged due to lack of evidence to support a murder charge.

The opening arguments for the trial for the second killing started on September 25. It was then postponed until October 30, and has since resumed, but no verdict has been declared to date.

During the opening arguments at Nairobi's High Court, lead prosecutor Keriako Tobiko accused Cholmondeley of both cold-blooded murder and attempts to conceal a crime, the New York Times reported.

"We shall prove the deceased was running away when he was shot," Tobiko told the court in late September, according to the New York Times. "We shall prove the accused attacked the deceased and his companions as retaliation and revenge for trespassing and poaching on his land."

Cholmondely, represented by his lawyer, Fred Ojiambo, pleaded not guilty to murder, claiming that he was taking a walk with his friend, rally car driver Carl Tundo, when they came upon five men armed with machetes, bows and arrows, and carrying a dead impala, Kenya's Daily Nation reported. According to Cholmondeley, the men set their dogs loose on him, and he shot in self defense, killing two dogs and fatally wounding Njoya.

The opening arguments ended four days later, and the judge, Muga Apondi, called for a recess until October 30.

When the trial resumed, Joseph Kamau, a friend of Njoya who was on the ranch with him that night, was called as a witness. According to Reuters, he told a packed courtroom that he and Njoya had illegally hunted animals on Soysambu Ranch ten times in the previous year. On the night of the killing, he said that he heard five gunshots and fled. He was unaware of Njoya's death until later that night.

"When I heard about the death of my colleague," Kamau said, as reported by Reuters, "I fled my home village because I was scared of arrest." He boarded a bus to Menengai, in the Nakuru District of Kenya, and returned only after police pressured him to appear as a witness.

Joseph Ombao, the first police officer at the scene of the killing, was also called as a witness. According to his police reports, Cholmondeley fired after he was threatened by the poachers.

"[Cholmondeley] alleged that there occurred a confrontation between him and the poachers," Ombao said, as reported by the Daily Nation. "The men…directed their weapons at him and also the dogs. He told me it was during the confrontation that he decided to shoot the dogs one by one. During the endeavor to shoot to shoot the dogs, the bullet hit the injured man, who later died."

Njoya was shot near the groin, and Cholmondeley ordered him taken to the nearest hospital.

According to police sergeant Patrick Khamati Mukolwe, who was called as a witness, Njoya died soon after arriving at the hospital, the Daily Nation reported.

"The clinical officer told us that he could have assisted us, but because of the position of the injury, he was unable to stop the bleeding," Mukolwe said in court.

On November 3, Cholmondeley, along with police, lawyers, and the judge, returned to the scene of the shooting to establish details of who was where when Njoya was shot, according to Reuters. Tundo pointed out the location where he and Cholmondeley stood, while Peter Gichui, Njoya's friend and fellow poacher, motioned to the spot where they were adjusting animal traps when they heard the gunshots.

The biggest break in the case came when Ojiambo, Cholomondeley's lawyer, accused police of not properly closing off the crime scene, moving crucial evidence before it was photographed, and not keeping an accurate record of events, the Daily Nation reported.

Both police witnesses, Ombao and Mukolwe, admitted to failing to tape off the crime scene when Ojiambo accused them of "deliberately misleading the court," the Daily Nation reported. According to news reports, these police shortfalls may increase Cholmondeley's chances of being set free.

Outside Online will continue to update this site when a verdict is announced. Please check back for details.

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