A court in Busia has handed a chief a 115-year prison term for arson.
The jailing of Ong’aroi assistant chief Andrew Odata left residents of Kamora village, Okame location in Teso South sub-county in shock.
Odata was arrested and arraigned on June 13, 2016.
The prosecution said he incited villagers to burn down the homestead of Mr Francis Ong’amo on claims that the latter bewitched his younger brother who died on June 6, 2016.
Mr Ong’amo’s family has been camping at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Alupe since June 14, 2016.
The assistant chief was arrested alongside 10 other people, who were later released when the court determined their innocence.
They were charged with nine counts, including setting several houses and a church on fire.
The court was also told that the group maliciously damaged property.
They denied the charges and were released on Sh50,000 to Sh2 million bond, pending determination of their case on Tuesday.
Senior Principal Magistrate Patrick Olengo said he summarily dealt with counts six to nine, adding that there was no evidence to support the charges against the accused.
The prosecution had lined up 13 witnesses.
“I am convinced that the prosecution proved its case against the first accused beyond reasonable doubt,” Mr Olengo said.
“I find Andrew Odata guilty of counts one to five and hereby convict him,” he said.
The assistant chief said he was remorseful for what had occurred.
Odata told the court that he has six children of school-going age.
“The offence carries a life imprisonment. The victims of the crime have not gone back to their home. The residents relied on the assistant chief for their security but he betrayed them by deciding to take sides in a dispute,” Mr Olengo said.
“I hereby sentence him to 23 years’ imprisonment on each of the five counts. The sentences concurrently.”
The chief’s family has protested the sentence while the aggrieved people asked the government to resettle them.
The 35 members of Mr Ong’amo’s family camping in Alupe blame their predicament on a longstanding land dispute.
“We had converged for my brother’s funeral when the assistant chief, who happens to be a relative, said I was responsible for the death,” Mr Ong’amo told the court.
“The statement surprised mourners. Everybody began talking in low tones.”
Mr Ong’amo’s eldest son, Simon Oduya, said a mob raided their home on the night on June 12, 2016 and razed all the houses and the church which was in the compound.
“Everything was reduced to ashes,” Mr Oduya said.
The dispute was reported to Adungosi police station.
Ten people, among them Mr Odata, were subsequently arrested.
While Mr Ong’amo’s family is worried about resettlement, the family of Odata wants his prison term reduced.
“Odata is a very humble man who is suffering because of a misunderstanding with one of his seniors,” Mr Clement Enyen said.
Odato’s sister-in-law Silvia Nafula said he is diabetic and could die in prison. She described the sentence as abnormally harsh.