Nyeri Law Courts

A sign outside Nyeri Law Courts. A matatu owner has told the High Court in Nyeri that he is unable to raise Sh5 million deposit as part of Sh21 million compensation to a passenger who was injured when his vehicle crashed in 2012.

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Getting away with murder: How bungled police probe saw killer walk free

In Witima sub-location in Othaya, Nyeri County, a killer is on the loose.

Thanks to the weak justice system, this particular killer, like a ghost among the living, continues to roam free.

As for the victim of the horrendous crime, the gradually eroding heap of soil that marks his final resting place and memories captured in grainy photographs is all that is left to show for a life cut short.

Murdered in cold blood

Samuel Ruoro Ritho was only 52 when he was murdered in cold blood.

For an ordinary man who lived an ordinary life, with an ordinary social life and working the most ordinary job for an ordinary income, the final chapter of Samuel’s life has turned out to be bizarre.

After two years and 10 months of investigations, including more than a year of a court-guided public inquest, the only breakthrough authorities have made is the conclusion that Samuel was murdered.

This is the same conclusion made on June 25, 2018 by detectives when his body was fished out of a decommissioned cattle dip near his home and confirmed by a pathologist through an autopsy nine days later.

Samuel Ruoro Ritho, a former employee of Nyeri Water and Sanitation Company, who was murdered in cold blood in at Witima in Othaya, Nyeri County in June 2018.

Photo credit: Pool

As for the who did it and the motive, the case remains a puzzle. Police have no leads.

With the homicide investigation going cold, questions abound; was the murder so clinically executed that the perpetrator left no evidence to implicate them? Or were detectives too inept to unmask a callous killer?

In criminal investigations, it is always presumed that whenever a perpetrator enters and leaves a crime scene, they leave something behind that can be traced back to them.

This was the basis pioneer forensic scientist Edmond Locard used when he formulated Locard’s exchange principle on which detectives have for decades anchored their pursuit of criminals.

Nicknamed the Sherlock Holmes of France, Dr Locard argued that in the physical world, evidence is never really wholly absent and only human failure to find, study and understand it can compromise its value.

If Locard’s principle is anything to go by, getting away with crimes like murder should be impossible. Yet still, killers get away with the oldest, most heinous crime known to mankind.

A case in point is the senseless and brutal murder of Samuel.

After close to three years of agonising pursuit of justice and closure in futility, Samuel's family feels the system has failed them.

“My brother did not just die naturally. He was murdered. He was taken away from us before his time. And the one who killed him continues to walk free only because the police did not do enough to catch them,” Ms Susan Njoki, his sister, said.

Poor probe

The Nation took a deep dive into the case and findings today reveal what can only be defined as a poorly executed investigation characterised by inconsistencies, omissions and systemic errors that point towards ineptitude, complacency and probable collusion by investigators to bury the case.

Although witness accounts on the specific timeliness of the crime are a tangled web of contradictions, the Nation can authoritatively place Samuel’s murder between the night of June 24 and the dawn of June 25, 2018.

In his evidence before court, the deceased’s son, Mr Josiah Wahome, places his father at Kagumo shopping Centre at around 6pm on June 24. Samuel had been drinking in a bar there.

His wife, Lucy Mugure, then places him at home at around 8pm, but the timeline starts to get scrambled from there.

To this day, it is unclear at what time exactly Samuel was killed and the actual murder scene, owing to contradictory evidence given at the inquest.

Ms Mugure testified that her husband left soon after 8pm after he changed from a jacket into a jumper. He returned five minutes later and left again, she said. However, in another statement, she claimed her husband left at 9pm and never came back.

Another witness account, however, negates this statement, claiming that between 9:30pm and 10pm, the deceased was at home. His nephew, Mr Josiah Mwangi, who had been watching a football match with him at home, said Samuel ate and went to bed.

In the narrative that the deceased left the house, his wife and son told authorities that they believed he had gone back to Kagumo shopping centre to drink some more at the bar.

The Nation spoke to the owner of the bar, who said that after he left for home, Samuel never returned.

At around 2am, Samuel’s wife notified her son that he was “missing”, prompting a search.

Photo credit: Pool

The search went on into the next day, when a cap he had been wearing the previous day was spotted a short distance from his home. At the scene, there were drag marks in the mud, suggesting there had been a struggle.

His body was found dumped in a decommissioned cattle dip about 100 metres from his home. The body was stashed in a plastic gunny bag stuffed with soil, perhaps a bid to keep the body submerged in stagnant rain water.

Preliminary findings showed the deceased had bruises on his back, suggesting his body had been dragged on the ground. He was also bleeding from the nose and mouth.

An autopsy conducted at Mukurwe-ini Hospital Mortuary showed the victim was strangled.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations was called in. For the next two years, the department ran an investigation that was marred with glaring errors and inconsistencies.

From the first step in the investigations, police allowed contamination of the scene of crime by allowing villagers to crowd around where the body was found.

And when police took away the body, they left behind the gunny bag and two ropes found at the scene. These items that were crucial evidence in the case were delivered to Othaya Police Station three days later by villagers.

Detectives would then go ahead to use them as exhibits in the inquest, despite the extensive contamination.

Nevertheless, rather than screen the items for trace evidence like DNA, police sent samples to a geologist to establish where the soil contained in the sack came from. Police used the findings to rule out the home of the deceased as the origin of the soil, and subsequently conclude he was not killed at home. 

To this day, detectives do not know the exact murder scene.

In the questioning of witnesses, police made omissions that would have been crucial to the case.

For instance, at the time of the “disappearance”, five people were in the victim’s house -- his wife, two daughters and two grandchildren. They were never questioned and never testified at the inquest, which would have given a clearer timeline leading up to his death.

Police did, however, present other people, including a matatu driver, boda boda rider and another son of the deceased who were nowhere near the home at the time. The son was in Kirinyaga County.

Now, relatives of the victim have raised concern about how the case was handled, with fresh details now suggesting that police ignored an order to arrest suspects and instead launched an inquest.

The Nation has acquired proof that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions issued a directive to arrest three people and charge them with murder, saying there was sufficient evidence to support prosecution.

In a letter dated May 28, 2019, the ODPP directed detectives in Othaya to arrest the three suspects directly linked to the murder. They were also required to record statements from the three and get data of the victim’s phone, which was never found.

“I have carefully studied, analysed and considered the evidence in respect to the file and am satisfied that the evidence therein is sufficient to support charges of murder. I, therefore, direct that the three accused persons should be arrested and prosecuted,” the letter reads in part.

Police ignored this directive and proceeded to file for a public inquest. They also never produced the mobile phone data as earlier instructed.

Did police allow three people to get away with murder, even after convincing the DPP they had sufficient evidence to prove it?

In his judgment at the end of the inquest last year, Senior Resident Magistrate David Ireri concluded that Samuel was murdered but the evidence produced did not link anyone to the crime.

“At the close of this inquest hearing and after analysing the evidence on record, it is clear that the deceased was murdered but I find that there is no direct or circumstantial evidence that can link anyone with the deceased’s death as at now,” the magistrate said.

Despite this conclusion, findings have since shown that Samuel was worried for his safety and had claimed that he feared he would be killed. He named his wife and brother as possible suspects prior to his death.

A colleague at Nyeri Water and Sanitation Company (Nyewasco) testified that in the days leading up to his death, Samuel seemed disturbed and had said that should he die, his wife and brother should be questioned.

The deceased had been involved in marital wrangles that had reportedly turned violent over time. The wrangles revolved around his drinking and spending of his income.

The marital disputes had seen his employer Nyewasco intervene and recommend couples’ counselling.

The dispute escalated when the wife tried to have her husband sacked and replaced by their son at the company where he was a driver for more than 10 years.

This saw Samuel take early retirement at 52, taking home benefits of about Sh1.4 million. He took a lump sum of Sh621,000, which he used to renovate his family home and buy a dairy cow.

He was supposed to collect the balance of more than Sh700,000 on June 25, 2018, in the company of his wife. He died hours before he could collect the money. He also had a life insurance policy that listed his wife as a beneficiary.

Police explored this as a possible motive of the murder but came to no conclusion.

Samuel’s family now wants the case reinvestigated, saying they are worried the detectives were compromised to cover up the murder.

“The whole case was mishandled. My brother did not get justice and we want the case reinvestigated because we believe the killer could not have come from too far outside our circles,” said Ms Njoki.