Syombua murder: Journalists kicked out of courtroom during KDF man trial

Peter Mugure

Peter Mugure (in suit)  the prime suspect in the murder of his estranged wife and two children in 2019,  during a court hearing at Nyeri Law Court on November 8, 2022. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

Reporters and members of the public were on Wednesday morning forced out of the courtroom during the trial of former military man Peter Mugure.

Mugure is accused of killing his wife Joyce Syombua and two children at the Laikipia Airbase in 2019. 

Justice Martin Muya said the testimony of Major Fredrick Laja cannot be heard in public because what he says might compromise the security of the Laikipia Airbase. 

The judge made the order after the prosecution led by Mwangi Gachanja presented an application before the court requesting Major Laja's testimony be heard privately. 

Mugure, a former Kenya Defence Forces major accused of killing his wife and children, told the police that they were missing, a court heard on Tuesday.

Inspector Victor Kiptoo, who investigated the case, testified before Nyeri High Court Judge Martin Muya that Mr Mugure had filed a missing-persons report at the Nanyuki Police Station on the afternoon of October 28, 2019.

Inspector Kiptoo said Mr Mugure came to the station with a fellow military man to report about his missing wife, Joyce Syombua, and two children, Prince Michael and Shanice Maua, aged five and 10, respectively.

“Mugure claimed that he had received a call from the Deputy OCS of Soweto police, Inspector Victoria Makau, who was asking about the whereabouts of Ms Syombua and her two children. He requested to make an OB report for missing persons,” he said.

Inspector Kiptoo said he asked an officer at the station to record Mr Mugure’s missing-persons report.

Later that day, Inspector Kiptoo said, he received a phone call from Ms Syombua’s friend, Farizannah Syombua, who told him that she had been referred to him by the deputy police boss at the Soweto Police Station.

She said she had tried calling Ms Syombua’s mobile phone without success. The police then tracked the phone to the Nanyuki matatu main stage.

Ms Farizannah told Inspector Kiptoo that an employee of 4NTE matatu sacco had told her that they had found a lost Tecno mobile phone in one of their vehicles.

The police seized the phone from a 4NTE deputy manager. It was produced in court as an exhibit.

The manager had told Inspector Kiptoo that Ms Syombua’s phone was presented to the office by a driver who found it in his vehicle.

“The matatu driver had told the management that the phone was found by one of the cleaners who was washing his car at the 4NTE Sacco premises,” he said.

Missing persons 

After confirming with Ms Syombua’s family that the recovered phone indeed belonged to her, Inspector Kiptoo said he placed a notice of missing persons and recorded statements from Ms Syombua’s relatives and Mr Mugure the following day.

Family members, Ms Syombua’s mother and her friend Mr Farizannah told the police that Mr Mugure had been in an on-and-off relationship with his wife.

“This prompted me to have Mugure reveal the issues he had with his wife and as a result he gave me a copy of the proceedings of a suit before the Magistrate Court at the Milimani Law Courts, regarding the paternity and maintenance of their two children,” Inspector Kiptoo said.

In the suit filed in 2008 in Milimani, Nairobi, Ms Syombua sought child support, saying Mr Mugure had neglected them.

On August 9, 2019, the court ordered Mr Mugure to pay Sh25,000 for monthly upkeep for the two children, as well as rent and school fees.

DNA tests conducted during the hearing of the case had shown that Mr Mugure was the father of the children.

The court also ordered that Ms Syombua keep custody of the children, while allowing Mr Mugure visitation rights.

Family members

Yesterday, Inspector Kiptoo told the court that revelations from family members prompted him to confiscate Mr Mugure’s Huawei mobile phone and documents to aid in the investigations.

Mr Mugure said in his statement to the police that he had invited his family to visit him at his residence at the Laikipia Air Base on Friday, October 25, 2019, as his daughter Shanice was about to celebrate her birthday.

He picked them up from the Nanyuki main matatu stage and they spent the night at his residence.

The following day, he claimed, he woke up early and left with the children. He said he handed them over at the Nanyuki matatu stage to a woman unknown to him but who was a friend of his wife.

He said the woman had travelled from Timau, Meru County, to pick up the children.

He said he returned to the Laikipia Air Base to sort out issues with his wife, claiming they had not been on good terms.

They then proceeded to the Kirimara Springs Hotel in Nanyuki town for a late lunch.

At the hotel, he claimed, he received an urgent duty phone call from the Laikipia Air Base, prompting him to dispatch his family back to Nairobi, as he was no longer able to spend more time with them.

It was around 6pm when he left Ms Syombua and the children at the Nanyuki matatu stage.

Inspector Kiptoo told the court that he sought a passenger manifest for that particular day from 4NTE Sacco and Nanyuki Cabs but the documents were not available.

At Kirimara Springs Hotel, managers told him that CCTV camera recordings of the events of the day Mr Mugure visited with his wife had been recorded over.

“But in an interrogation, the Kirimara hotel manager revealed that he had seen the accused together with the deceased on the fateful day at the hotel,” Inspector Kiptoo said.

He also said he was allowed by the Nanyuki Air Base commander to investigate Mr Mugure’s residence.

But when he informed Mr Mugure about the plan, he said he was away in Nairobi at the Department of Defence headquarters for official duties.

Mr Mugure then asked a casual labourer at the base, identified as Mr Collins Pamba, to help him access the house, room A3.

But the door was locked and Mr Pamba entered the house through the rear window and opened the door from the inside.

But Inspector Kiptoo did not find any evidence at the house regarding Ms Syombua and the two children.

“As I was leaving the residences’ gate, however, I interrogated the guards, who told me that Mugure had visited the premises together with his family,” he said.

He said the visitors book showed that Ms Syombua had recorded her name and identification number on arrival and when she left the premises.

But “I noted that from the handwriting and guards’ testimony, the person who signed out was not Ms Syombua but Mugure,” he said.

He later received a call from the Laikipia Directorate of Criminal Investigations office on November 15, asking him to interrogate Mr Mugure again and confiscate his phone.

At the time, Mr Mugure was at the police station following up on the missing-person’s report and had bought a new phone.

But during the interrogation, Mr Mugure asked for his phone and deleted all messages, resetting the phone to factory settings.

He was arrested and that evening the bodies of Ms Syombua, Shanice and Prince Michael, which were in gunny bags, were dug out of a shallow grave in Thingithu. 

But during cross-examination, lawyer George Gori claimed the evidence against Mr Mugure was fabricated because the police did not interrogate the cleaner who recovered the phone.

“The investigating officer has also not provided the visitor's book at the Laikipia Air Base which Mugure allegedly signed on behalf of his wife,” he said.

The court also heard the testimony of Mr Pamba, a witness who is serving a five-year jail term after confessing that he helped wrap the three bodies and transport them to a car before they buried them in shallow graves.

Mr Pamba demonstrated to the court how they arranged the bodies in the boot of Mr Mugure’s Subaru (KCP 740F), which was produced at the court as an exhibit.

“We moved the back seats and laid the body of the son at the boot first followed by the daughter with their mother on top of them lying horizontally,” he said.

But lawyer Gori disputed Mr Pamba’s claims, noting that the bodies could not fit in the vehicle.

“The size of the vehicle cannot accommodate three bodies [in] the boot and the witness can also not recall how they arranged the bodies in the car,” he told the court, adding that Mr Mugure was being framed.

In his confession, Mr Pamba had told the court that Mr Mugure promised him a position in the Kenya Army if he helped him dispose of the bodies.

Hearing continues on Wednesday, November 9.

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