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Kericho man finally freed after 1989 wrongful imprisonment

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Philip Kipkemoi Bor gets emotional during an interview at his home in Cheplel village, Kapsoit, Kericho County on May 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

The last four weeks have been special for Philip Kipkemoi Bor and his family.

On Thursday, April 25, 2024, Bor, 54, walked out of the Eldoret Prison a free man, escorted by prison wardens and his lawyer.

He had walked behind prison walls, handcuffed, at the age of 18 in 1989, and this had been his home for 35 years, serving in Kamiti, Naivasha, and Eldoret prisons.

Bor had killed his neighbour while suffering from cerebral malaria, and the courts had, on July 7, 1989, found him guilty of the offence of murder committed while mentally unstable.

The late Justice Daniel Aganyanya had found him guilty of killing his neighbour using a blunt object and sent him to Kamiti Maximum Prison, where he would be detained at the pleasure of the President.

His tribulations began on February 26, 1988, in Lessos, Nandi County. According to the prosecution, Bor, who was resting in his bedroom, had accused the deceased of disrupting his sleep by waking him up.

Startled, he woke up and hit him with a blunt object, and he later succumbed to the injuries. This led to his arrest, and eventually, he was imprisoned.

Thirty-five years later, on April 11 this year, he received reprieve through the courts, thanks to the 2010 Constitution and his lawyer Oscar Oduor from the Centre for Legal Support and Inmate Rehabilitation (CELSIR), who put up a spirited fight to get him out of the confines of the prison walls.

Through his lawyer, Mr Bor filed a fresh High Court Criminal Petition last year, convincing Justice Reuben Nyakundi of the High Court in Eldoret that he deserved freedom.

In the petition, which turned out successful, his lawyer challenged the imprisonment of his client, who had been serving indefinitely at the mercy of the presidential power of mercy.

While challenging the sentence, Mr Bor recounted that he was recovering from cerebral malaria for which he had obtained treatment on the fateful day.

Unplanned attack

He recalled he was asleep in his bedroom when a neighbour woke him up, resulting in the unplanned attack.

The lawyer told the court that it was illegal to jail a mentally unfit person. He argued that because of his state of mind at the time of the incident, he couldn't respond adequately to questions from the investigating officers.

It is alleged that during interrogation, he was beaten by investigating officers who accused him of refusing to respond to their questions and had to seek medical attention at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret for injuries sustained. He was arraigned in court for a plea on March 3, 1988.

In 1991, with his father’s assistance, he embarked on the journey to obtain his file at Eldoret and Nakuru Court registries to appeal, but to no avail.

His attempt to petition for release by the Power of Mercy Advisory Committee over the years had failed.

On April 19, Justice Nyakundi issued his release order, but it wasn't until April 22, when Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) released a psychiatrist report confirming that he was mentally fit, that he walked out of the Eldoret Prisons gate a free man on April 25.

His first stop was at a men’s fashion shop in Eldoret Town, where he acquired a new dirty green suit and brand-new brown leather shoes, courtesy of CELSIR.

We caught up with him at his lawyer’s office at Meadows Building, Off Elgeyo Road, where he had gone to thank his lawyer, Oduor, and the entire staff of CELSIR.

He thanked his lawyers for their commitment that enabled him to get freedom.

Mr Bor said the 35 years he spent in jail was an opportunity for him "to learn the hard way."

Despite the challenges in prison, he was ready to face the future. He said that he was "born again" during his stay there.

“The far that I have reached is because of God and as I start a new journey in life, I will dedicate my life to serve God as his minister to declare His goodness to the world as a living testimony,” said Mr Bor.

His lawyer said the court agreed with his client that the impugned provisions of Section 166 of the CPC breached the doctrine of separation of powers.

Guilty but insane

“The court also agreed that a finding of guilty but insane is ironic as the fact that he is insane would mean that he cannot understand the charge sufficiently to answer it. It follows that putting such a person through a hearing is a breach of his constitutional rights. Furthermore, Mr Bor’s actions in 1988 were not only unintended but also unforeseen,” said Mr Oduor.

In his judgment, Justice Nyakundi ruled that the appropriate reliefs sought in the petition were meritorious to be granted by the court under Article 23 of the Constitution in favour of the petitioner.

“The review of the conviction of guilty but insane be made and the said conviction be replaced with a finding of not guilty for reason of insanity,” he ruled.

Justice Nyakundi noted that the Power of Mercy Advisory Committee (POMAC) failed to take advantage of its constitutional mandate to alleviate Mr Bor’s suffering and ordered and set aside his detention.

“Under Section 12 of the Penal Code, an accused person cannot be held criminally responsible for his acts if it is established that he did not know what he was doing or that he was incapable of understanding that he ought not to do the act,” the Judge stated.

In his early days in prison, the court heard that he was severely sick, and prison management referred him to Kenyatta National Hospital, where he received medical attention for one year. He was discharged from the hospital between August and September 1990.

During his imprisonment, he served at Kamiti Prison from 1989 to 2009, Nyeri Main Prison from 2009 to 2010, and Eldoret Main Prison from 2010 to April 25, 2024.

Back at his home in Cheptel village, Kapsoit ward, Kericho County, it was tears of joy as family, relatives, and villagers gathered to welcome him back home. The firstborn in a family of six was in disbelief and could not control the tears that rolled freely down his cheeks.

Did not hide her joy

His mother, Grace Misik, 72, did not hide her joy after receiving her son, who had been in prison since 1988.

Philip Kipkemoi Bor, 56, who was released from prison on April 19 after serving 36 years having been found guilty of killing a person while insane, his mother Grace Misik (centre) and sister Alice Talam celebrate his return at their home in Cheplel village, Kapsoit, Kericho County on May 20, 2024. He committed the crime at 18 and was jailed at 19.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

“I lack words to express my gratitude to God. I just say thank you, God, thank you, God,” she said.

Despite the long time that her son spent in prison, she revealed that she did not give up praying for him and kept hope alive that what happened to the biblical Paul and Cyrus would one day happen to him.

Her determination and hope in God for her son’s release was demonstrated in her frequent visits to see him in prison.

“We visited him at least three times a year just to show him we valued him as our son,” said Misik.

His brother, Musa Bor, said: “Throughout we have been hopeful that one day Bor will come home and take over his mantle as the eldest child,” an elated Musa said.

“As Kalenjins, one cannot assume the role of an elder brother if the elder brother is alive. I was only acting but now I am relieved since the real head of this family has come back,” he said.

His sister, Alice Cherono, said prayer and fasting were part of the family menu, with the hope of seeing Bor back home.

Similar sentiments were shared by Bor’s neighbours led by Samuel Langat, who described him as a polite man.

“Growing up together, Bor was just a good man. Whatever happened caught us by surprise. That is why we have been hoping that one day he will be a free man just the way it is today,” said Mr Langat.

Back home, Bor plans to marry soon as he settles down and raises a family.

 Philip Kipkemoi Bor is celebrated by relatives and neighbours at his home in Cheplel village, Kapsoit, Kericho County on May 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

For his reintegration into the community, however, elaborate traditions have had to be conducted in line with the Kalenjin beliefs. The rituals are to cleanse him in line with the Kipsigis customs.

"Before we help him get married, we have to perform some rituals to cleanse him even as we plan to construct him a house," his friend Langat said.

His friend has been tasked with finding a wife.

His father had long died by the time of his release, and he had to undergo certain rites before visiting his grave.

Mr Langat explained that the cleansing was to keep away demonic forces associated with the spirit of murder, which resulted in his imprisonment.

“I haven’t given up in life. I hope to marry shortly and continue serving God together with my wife,” an elated Bor told Nation.Africa's team at his home in Kericho on Monday.

To help him reintegrate into society, CELSIR, which facilitated his release from prison by catering for his legal services, conducted a social bonding session to counsel him on some basic social reintegration expectations he would encounter after prison.

They also gave him an exit care package comprising some household stuff and money to start his life with.

“We will be following up with him to ensure that he settles down in the community where he came from and to encourage him to live a law-abiding and self-sustaining life. This is one of the great achievements of our organization,” said CELSIR Founder and Executive Director Anne Munyua, promising that her institution will work with him to ensure that he successfully settles in the community and starts a fresh life after 35 years behind bars.