A Catholic priest who attempted to kill a Form Two student together with a child he is alleged to have fathered will know his fate today (Monday) when a Kitui court delivers its judgment.
Father Japheth Mwove Kimanzi’s desperate attempt to cover up infidelity to his celibacy vows landed him in court in 2015 after police arrested him in connection with the brutal attack on 23-year-old Veronica Musali Mutua and her child.
Kitui Chief Magistrate Stephen Mbungi will deliver the judgment today after a five-year trial where disturbing details on how the priest conspired to destroy evidence linking him to the child were laid bare in court.
According to witness testimonies and documentary evidence including a DNA report presented in court, the accused priest, formerly in charge of Kabati Parish in Kitui Catholic Diocese, refused to take responsibility to raise the child and frustrated efforts by the girl’s family to get justice.
The attack on Veronica, which happened on the night of November 16, 2015, may have shocked the country because a man of God was allegedly involved, but the court drama was more embarrassing to the church.
Fr Kimanzi, who has since been ex-communicated, has been facing charges of assault and causing grievous harm to both his girlfriend Veronica and the child.
Both survived the attack but the child, now aged nine years, suffered permanent disability including loss of sight, damaged brain and crippled legs. The child became deaf and blind.
The court was told how Veronica, then a naïve 15-year-old teenager, was enticed by Fr Kimanzi using biscuits, pocket money and other little favours. He was then serving at Nuu Catholic Parish.
She told the court how the priest lured her into an illicit relationship while she was still a Form One student, but later used violence, intimidation and bribery to silence her.
“I dropped out of school in shame having let down my parents. My peers ridiculed me for coveting a priest and I’ve been struggling to raise the baby on my own since February 2012,” she narrated in her testimony.
On the fateful day, the priest invited the woman to Kabati parish offices, his new station, on November 16, 2015, to discuss how the child would get specialised treatment, and asked her to bring all the clinical reports.
Trap to silence her
However, unknown to Veronica, this was an unthinkable trap to inflict further pain, intimidate her into total silence or possibly kill her.
“He telephoned me and suggested that we meet. I travelled from Thika with my daughter as agreed but when I arrived at Kabati Holy Family Church where he used to minister, he wasn’t in and his phone was off,” she said.
She said the parish gateman had been instructed to keep her waiting until he returned but at around 5pm, the priest called asking that they meet at his Tulia village home, 20 kilometres away, where he claimed he was held up.
“I took a matatu and headed to his home, arriving late in the evening, but he was not there either. I found his mother who chased me away, prompting me to seek accommodation from a neighbour’s home,” she told the court.
While at the neighbour’s home, the priest called, threatening to kill her for embarrassing him while his mother followed her there and demanded she be thrown out for being a disgrace to her son.
“Cowed by the threats, my host opted to escort me to the nearby market to board a taxi back to Kabati but little did I know that after stepping out of that house, I was walking into a well-laid death trap,” she said.
Suddenly, a man emerged from nowhere, armed with a blunt object, and started chasing them. She was hit on the head while the other woman escaped to safety, leaving Veronica and her child at the mercy of the assailant.
“I recognised my attacker was the same priest who had invited me to their home for reconciliation. I shouted his name but he responded by hitting my child who was still on my back on the head and blood started oozing from her nose,” she narrated in court.
Serious head injuries
Veronica sustained serious head injuries but survived by feigning unconsciousness after it occurred to her that the lone attacker was determined to kill her and the child. The aggressor fled, convinced that they were dead and that his task had been accomplished.
She left the bleeding toddler on the road and crawled into the nearby thicket where she spent the night, writhing in pain. The two were discovered the following morning by villagers who alerted the police.
Before the attack, Veronica wrote a personal letter to the then Kitui Bishop Anthony Muheria which she dropped at his residence, explaining her troubles, prompting an internal investigation. She had been denied access to the bishop on several occasions.
To the church, the DNA report implicating the priest was an embarrassing scandal and a major affront against celibacy – a strong basis of the Catholic faith and priesthood.
On his part, the accused denied the assault charges, telling the court that Veronica was out to tarnish his name and that he did not attack her.