Tension as three arraigned over murder of US-based Nyamira couple

Peris Ondara, Peter Ondara and Peter Njoroge

Peris Ondara, Peter Ondara and Peter Njoroge at Nyamira High Court on Thursday. The three  have been accused of killing Edward Morema, 62, and his wife Grace Mong’ina, 58, between 20 and 21, March 2023 at Egetugi village in Masaba North Sub County in Nyamira.

Photo credit: Ruth Mbula | Nation Media Group

Tension prevailed after three suspects in the murder of a US couple more than two months ago were arraigned in Nyamira High Court on Thursday.

Dozens of residents who thronged the court to catch a glimpse of the suspects were baying for their blood, forcing security to be beefed up in and around the court.

After pleading not guilty, the suspects were hurriedly taken to a waiting police vehicle.

Police stood guard and heavily protected the defendants, who struggled to cover their faces from the glare of cameras and the angry public.

Ms Peris Ondara, Mr Peter Ondara and Mr Peter Njoroge pleaded not guilty to the murders of Edward Morema, 62, and his wife Grace Mong'ina, 58, at Egetugi village in Masaba North sub-county in Nyamira between March 20 and 21, 2023.

The three were arraigned before High Court Judge Wilfrida Okwany, who was sitting virtually.

Justice Okwany rejected a prayer by the accused, through their lawyer, to be remanded in custody at either Sotik or Kericho GK prisons.

The suspects had opposed their detention at Kisii GK prison, citing security concerns.

Public Prosecutor Joel Chirchir had also objected to the suspects' prayer, saying security should not be an issue as Kisii GK Main Prison was well protected and there was no cause for alarm.

"Besides, we have other suspects in this case in the same Kisii prison. There is no problem with their security," Mr Chirchir said.

Lawyers for the accused asked the court to transfer them to either the Sotik or Kericho prisons instead of the Kisii Main GK Prisons due to hostility from the community.

"I am not satisfied that the safety of the accused persons will be jeopardised at Kisii Prisons while they await trial. I therefore direct that the accused persons be remanded in Kisii Main GK Prisons pending trial," the judge ruled.

The suspects will be remanded in custody until May 30, 2023, when they will return to court for the mention of their case.

So far, four suspects have been arrested and charged in court. The fourth suspect, Mr Dennis Ondara, was arraigned in court earlier this week.

This was after he was arrested at the Isebania border on Friday last week. Police swooped in on him as he was allegedly preparing to cross into Tanzania. He had evaded detectives who were tracking him from Nairobi's Ruai area, where he had been hiding.

The prosecution asked that the two cases be consolidated, a request the court granted.

Shocking news

Morema lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and had returned to the country on holiday when he and his wife, Mong'ina, were murdered. He lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while his wife lived in Kenya.

On March 21, 2023, the country woke up to the shocking news that the couple had been murdered at their home in Nyamira, after they failed to turn up for breakfast.

This prompted a domestic helper and a farm labourer to check on their employers, and when they entered the house, they found Mong'ina's body lying in a pool of blood on the bed.

The man's body was found in the garage. Both bodies had deep cuts on the heads, while their legs and hands were bound with electric cable. They were also gagged with pieces of clothing.

A post-mortem on the bodies revealed that they had died of strangulation and blunt force injuries to the head and upper limbs.

During their burial in April, relatives sought the intervention of the Cabinet Secretary for Home Affairs Kithure Kindiki in the investigations.

The couple's children, who could not hold back tears during the funeral service and as their parents' coffins were lowered into the grave, said they were living in fear and only wanted justice to prevail.