A man told a court he helped to hire two hitmen to kill a Nyeri businessman’s son, mistakenly thinking they were casual labourers meant to work at a stone-crushing site.
Testifying before Justice Martin Muya, Embu-based trader Geoffrey Warutumo said he was asked to identify men to work at Stephen Wang’ondu’s business in Mweiga town.
He said he was contacted by James Mahinda, Mr Wang’ondu’s driver, to get him workers who would be tasked with disciplining errant employees.
Mr Warutumo is a state witness who was formerly accused alongside the two suspects in the murder of 32-year-old Daniel Mwangi – Eddy Ngari and Raphael Wachira.
Mr Wang’ondu was charged with orchestrating the killing of his son on the night of January 1, 2021, in Mweiga, but he died in May 2021, as the court proceedings were going on. He had been released on a Sh1 million bond.
He was charged alongside his driver, Mr Mahinda, and Mr Warutumo, as well as the two killers, Mr Ngari and Mr Wachira – who are the only remaining suspects in the case.
Mr Warutumo was released last year after the court established that he did not take part in the murder in Nyeri as he did not leave Embu that day.
Mr Mahinda signed a plea-bargain agreement, pleading guilty to the lesser offence of neglect for the murder.
He was sentenced to two years in prison and one year of probation after confessing to transporting the hitmen to Mr Mwangi’s home, where they killed him.
In his testimony on Tuesday, Mr Warutumo said that Mr Mahinda, his long-time friend, called him on the phone on December 29, 2020, asking him to get him workers.
The following day, Mr Mahinda visited him at his Muguka shop in Embu town, persisting in his request.
“It was then that I called Ngari, whom I knew as my customer, and informed him of the job opportunity,” Mr Warutumo told the court, adding that he contacted Mr Ngari because he knew that he had been looking for employment for a while.
After Mr Ngari and Mr Mahinda met, they found another person, Mr Wachira, to help with the job.
“The three – Ngari, Mahinda, and Wachira – held a brief discussion outside my shop as they planned when to start working while I attended to my customers inside the shop,” Mr Warutumo said.
At one time, he heard Mr Mahinda tell the two that they would be paid Sh100,000 if they accepted the job offer.
Mr Warutumo said he did not inquire about the details of what the work entailed because he was busy with the steady flow of customers to his shop.
Mr Ngari later visited him to ask if he had received any money from Mr Mahinda.
The prosecution in its evidence said that after killing Mr Mwangi, the two hitmen gave Mr Mahinda Sh8,000 out of the Sh100,000 they were paid to pass to Mr Warutumo.
The money was in appreciation for referring them for the job. But Mr Mahinda kept the money.
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When Mr Ngari realised what had happened, he called Mr Mahinda and forced him to send the money. Mr Warutumo said he only received Sh4,000.
Mr Warutumo heard from Mr Mahinda in February 2021 when he asked him to look for Mr Wachira and Mr Ngari and ask them to switch off their phones because the police were after them.
At the time, homicide detectives in Nyeri were investigating Mr Wang’ondu in connection with the death of his first-born son, Mr Mwangi.
Mr Mahinda, who also testified yesterday, said Mr Wang’ondu asked him to hire men on his behalf to punish his son, whom he said was disturbing him.
Mr Mwangi and his father had been involved in a public fight in Mweiga town, which left Mr Wang’ondu feeling humiliated.
Mr Mahinda said he went to look for the two men because his employer had become persistent, saying he was determined to punish his son.
“I only agreed to it because the idea was just to beat Mwangi and teach him a lesson but not to kill him,” he said, adding that Mr Wang’ondu had promised him a parcel of land in Ngobit if he executed the plot, but he never got the property.
The former driver said he received a call from Mr Ngari on the fateful day, January 1, at around 6am, informing him that they had completed the job.
He said he visited Mr Wang’ondu at his stone-crushing site, where he spent most of his time, and informed him about it.
To his surprise, his employer seemed “very happy” with his son’s death.
He was given Sh160,000 to pay the executioners, he said, adding that he gave them Sh92,000 and kept the rest.
Two weeks after Mr Mwangi’s death, Mr Wang’ondu started following up on his life insurance policy, saying his son had died as a result of an accident.
“I knew this because I drove him to the regional commander’s office in Nyeri town several times and the insurance company to present the postmortem results,” Mr Mahinda said.
The two hit Mr Mwangi on the head using a metal rod while wearing gloves that Mr Mahinda purchased.
During cross-examination, lawyers Zachary Gichuki and Munga Ndichu, representing the two accused, asked him why there was no proof that he received money from Mr Wang’ondu.
“There is a possibility that the state witness was paid to give evidence against the main suspect, who unfortunately is now dead and cannot defend himself,” said Mr Ndichu.
Mr Mahinda has completed his two-year jail term and is now serving a one-year non-custodial sentence.
The case continues on February 16, 2023.