On September 28, 2023, outside King’ong’o Maximum Prison, a forlorn but elated Joseph Mureithi 76, asked for a soda and full loaf of bread to celebrate his close escape from a lifetime in jail.
“It was eight years since I took my favourite black-coloured soda… and full loaf all to myself in freedom… I also had this good feeling inside me since I was celebrating the miracle of my lifetime so far,” he said.
His niece Jennifer Wandia says “I was emotional seeing how he devoured that odd meal immediately it was presented to him, and I cried. I saw the value of freedom.”
Mr Mureithi was on May 18, 2017, sentenced to 10 years in jail for defilement.
He appealed, and the sentence was revised to life imprisonment.
Yet another appeal later saw him released after serving eight years.
“That was the closest shave in my life. At least I survived the nightmare and was now a free man save for the fact that when I was arrested, I was an energetic man walking on my feet, but I left jail a sick man who could only use a wheelchair after I suffered stroke and bladder failure while serving the sentence,” he says.
Mr Mureithi’s nightmare started June 12, 2015, he was arrested on suspicion of defiling his brother’s six-year-old grandchild, a charge he vehemently denied while in court, in remand and in jail.
Even “now in my freedom I still deny the charge”.
He says his wife had died in 2002 leaving him with their six children “and for love of my late wife — and the fact that I had suffered a genital arousal disorder in 1995 — I had decided never to remarry”.
Living alone in his house in Nyakiiru village in Kirinyaga County and cooking for himself, Mureithi says children from the village would every once in a while check in on him.
“They were attracted to my generosity as I always gave them something to eat, be it a banana, some food, tea, porridge and sometimes soup. I also used to sing for them and tell them stories. My house was a haven of happiness for the neighbourhood’s children of both genders,” he said.
On that fateful date, he says a child visited him at around 10am and he gave her rice and chicken stew.
“She was seated on sacking spread on the floor while I sat on a three-legged stool taking some alcohol I had brewed. I was also singing to her in between sips and telling her short stories. About 30 minutes since she her arrival, her mother burst into my house since the door was slightly ajar,” he narrates.
He says the words that came out from the mother were harsh and troubling.
“She accused me of defiling her daughter and demanded that I give her Sh50,000 else she makes it a police case. I protested saying I could not raise such kind of money for a non-existent crime,” he says.
The mother, Sicily Wakuthii, who recently told Nation.Africa that “kindly tell that man he is lucky to be out and alive since the shame he handed my family is unimaginable” reported the matter at Kiangwaci police patrol base that same day.
“At around 4pm, I was arrested by two police officers and booked as a suspected defiler. I thought it was a simple matter that would be solved by a simple medical examination of the child and I, but I was mistaken,” he said.
Today he reminisces; “I wish I had paid the Sh50,000 extortion fee the mother had demanded because no medical test was conducted on me, but I was charged at Kerugoya law court before Magistrate Anne Nyaga on two counts — defilement and indecent assault against a minor”.
He denied the charges and waited for his accuser and witnesses.
“Only someone that was introduced as an expert witness conducted medical tests on the child and reported observing a small cut on the girl’s private parts and a scratch on her thigh. I asked him whether he had any evidence to attach those two injuries to me and he responded in the negative,” he said.
Mr Mureithi says he started preparing mentally for his return home after two years of sitting in remand.
But on May 18, 2017, the words of Ms Nyaga crushed his hopes when she dismissed the count of defilement for lack of evidence but upheld the indecent act with a minor charge, citing the two injuries as evidence and sentenced him to a 10-year jail term. She gave him the customary legal 14-day window to appeal against the sentence.
“My world had caved in… According to the judgement, I was to serve 8 more years as guest of the state since the two years that I had spent in remand were considered part of the sentence. I cried bitterly tears for failing to grab the Sh50,000 libation that criminal extortion had offered for my freedom,” he told Nation.Africa.
He appealed the sentence.
On August 12, 2020, however, Justice Lucy Gitari ruled that the lower court had been too lenient and sentenced him to life in prison.
She observed that Mureith’s demand for spermatozoa or hair follicles be produced as evidence was ambitious onslaught against the victim.
“The accused appears fully depleted of the main reason why the law does not require that evidence of spermatozoa or such allied specimens be availed is hinged on that fact that offences of this nature start at the imagination to defile... mere imagination and need not be backed by penetration… The ingredient of the offence is demonstrated, and penetration need not be deep inside the girl’s organ…. the cut and the scratch… are plausible ingredients,” she said.
The ruling added that “even if the medical report indicated that the minor’s hymen was intact, it is not necessary that it be ruptured since in sexual offences, the slightest penetration of a female sex organ by a male sex organ is sufficient to constitute the offence”.
Mr Mureithi swears that his medically proven inability to erect could not have lent him passion to go scratching or cutting on anyone’s genitals.
“I again considered myself stupid. This was the second time I had sunk myself deeper into trouble. I squandered the first extortion window when the minor’s mother wanted Sh50,000 — and I had it all in liquid cash. Now here again, I had donated myself to life imprisonment instead of patiently serving the eight years that the magistrate had handed me. I felt useless, hopeless and helpless,” he says.
But while in jail, he met three lawyers who had also been jailed and they helped him craft another appeal.
“They advised that my only hope lay in demanding proof that I was the one responsible for the scratch and the cut that the medic had cited as evidence of indecent action. I was counselled to cross-examine whether the injuries were from a weapon or from a human organ. I was guided to include the extortion attempt in the appeal and also disclose that I had been ruled to be a man with erectile dysfunction and could not therefore experience any sexual yearning,” he said.
The appeal was handled by Judges Philip Nyamu, Roselyn Naliaka and Patrick Omwenga Kiage who in their September 23 ruling observed that “the prosecution had not attempted to build its case beyond the citation of the mother and who was a family member to the accused”.
The judges observed that “the prosecution did not research on the possible underlying motives of the case and the expert witness that was adduced was not enough to be attributed to the accused in the absence of any scientific matching and correlation”.
The Bench also observed that with remission, the first conviction of 10 years had since matured for his release and gave a verdict for his freedom.
Now a free man, he regrets that he will never regain his good health. “Each day is a miracle for me. You see, I can only empty my bladder through a catheter and truth be told, I am more concerned about my relations with my Creator than dwell on the jail term I endured.”
He said he has made peace with his accuser, society and with his soul “and should I depart this world, I leave having forgiven everyone that ever wronged me. I also say sorry to anybody I might have wronged in my entire life as I wait to make my final bow as a man enjoying immense inner peace”.
But Mr Mureithi wants law researchers and the National Assembly to relook into sexual offences laws saying proof benchmarks should be made clearer, tougher and more scientific so as to deter malicious cases whose agenda is to either extort or inflict character assassination.
“Anyone who defiles or rapes should be dealt with firmly and in a manner that will deter as many possible to keep off such beastly actions. But the method of ascertaining that the bestiality occurred and processing suspects in custody should be more transparent. Many in the police and the Judiciary are reckless and emotional when deciding such cases,” he said.
His son, Weston Irungu, now 48, says “we are sure our father never defiled that child. Also, this was his first arrest since birth, but we forgive all those who schemed to have him unjustifiably punished.”
He averred thus: “My father was set up owing to deep-rooted family enmity that has persisted over 100 years now involving out great grandparents and passed on to their descendants.”
Irungu added that the family was happy to receive back the father and will nurse him.