He became a household name in 2014 following the release of the hit song “No ira tu” (It was just yesterday). Sammy Boy, whose real name is Samuel Mathenge Mwaniki, wowed audiences with his mellow voice.
The gospel song tells a tale of how one toils for long to make ends meet and then turns his life around.
His rising star had at the time caught the eyes of popular artistes in the industry who wanted to do collaborations with him. Sammy Boy was on the verge of stardom.
But the tables turned on him and he found himself in a battle to save not just his promising music career but also his life.
Last year, he was sentenced to death for taking part in an armed robbery. He has appealed the sentence and maintains his innocence.
He argues that he is a victim of circumstances, having found himself at the wrong place, at the wrong time after trusting a wrong friend.
To his largely religious fan base, he is an endearing character thus the news of his imprisonment took most aback.
But there is more about the musician than meets the eye. In the eyes of the law, Sammy Boy is a dangerous criminal who has no place in society. Chief magistrate Kennedy Bidali had no doubts when he convicted him of robbery with violence and sentenced him to hang.
The popular musician had been off-air for some time and, last month, he became a talking point after he made a television appearance from behind bars.
Since he was handed his sentence in December 2021, he has been at the Naivasha Maximum Security Prison.
Despite being convicted of the offence,Sammy Boy insists he was wrongfully charged as he was only found in possession of items he claims he did not know were stolen. But detectives investigating the robbery put a strong case that placed Sammy Boy at the scene of the crime.
“All I would say is: know your friends. I am in here because I agreed to hold some items for a friend who said he was having trouble with his landlord. I thought they belonged to him because it was not the first time he had made such a request,” Sammy Boy told Inooro TV last week.
If his narrative is anything to go by, he ought to have been charged only with the offence of being in possession of stolen goods.
So, how then did detectives attached to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) arrive at the conclusion that he was part of the armed robbery six years ago?
The Nation pieced together threads of evidence that investigators relied upon to win Sammy Boy’s conviction and incarceration, including details of a double-faced man who turned out to be one of Central Kenya’s most wanted gangsters.
Sammy Boy entered the gospel music scene in 2011. Then things went south four years later.
Court documents seen by the Nation show that on the night of August 6, 2015, a gang of six held at gunpoint a family of British investors and their Kenyan staff in an attack at their home in Gilgil, Nakuru County.
Sammy Boy was identified as one of the gangsters who took part in the six-hour siege at Malewa Bush Ventures Camp in Gilgil.
The camp’s director Christine Mary Campell and her husband Christopher Edward Campbell had returned from shopping around 8pm on the fateful night. They had planned to prepare and have supper with their mother and two close associates identified as Sharon Lindi Pape and Keith Bentley.
Three of their Kenyan employees, including a nurse, who was caring for their ailing mother, were also present.
Attack family of British investors
Testimonies given by the victims show that six armed men broke into the home some minutes to 8pm. They were armed with a rifle, a pistol and knives for the robbery which detectives believed had been planned prior, complete with regular surveillance of the property to learn the movements of the occupants.
They entered the compound’s exterior kitchen first where they accosted Mr Benson Mwereria, a worker. He was tied up and ordered to remain quiet.
Ms Christine, who was helping with the cooking, said that as soon as she entered the kitchen, she was also captured by the gangsters and tied up. They then proceeded to rob them of their phones and jewellery. Her husband, Christopher, was next to be captured. Two of the robbers were left to guard the three while the rest of the gang proceeded to the main house.
In a few minutes, the gang had rounded up all eight occupants of the house in the living room. They even dragged out the couple’s ailing mother from bed but after pleading with them, they agreed to escort her back .
In their testimonies, the victims also told the court that the robbers were not wearing masks at the time and kept on taunting them and at some point even identified themselves as Al-Shabaab.
For the next four hours, the gang ransacked the house taking away anything they deemed valuable. They stashed their loot into two vehicles belonging to the Campbells.
The gang took cash, both in local and foreign currency, assorted electronics including phones, tablets, laptops and other house appliances. A guitar was also reported stolen from the home.
Around midnight, the victims were bundled into the boots of the two vehicles, both Toyota Prados.
“They then entered both vehicles and started driving towards Langa Langa. We drove for about two and a half kilometres before stopping,” Mr Campbell said.
The gang reportedly stayed at the spot for about two hours as they negotiated how they would split the loot, while taking turns to watch their hostages.
At some point, the gangsters are said to have disagreed on how much money they had stolen. They had to check with the victims how much money they had before the robbery.
Around 2am, the gang is said to have entered one vehicle and drove off but not before deflating two tyres of the other vehicle and throwing away the ignition key. One of the workers then walked to the nearest police station to get assistance.
Manhunt for the gang
Detectives based at the Gilgil Police Station initiated a manhunt for the gang that drove towards Nairobi.
Using phone data and after questioning a suspect who had been arrested in connection with the heist, police managed to track down the stolen items to Kinoo on the outskirts of Nairobi five days later.
On August 12, 2015, Sammy Boy was arrested after being found with stolen items. They were stashed in a minivan which the Nation has since learnt had been hired three days before, on August 9, by Sammy Boy.
Even though the musician claimed the items belonged to a friend, detectives managed to uncover that he had hired the van from one Sammy Ngunjiri, who runs a rental car business in Kinoo. He even deposited copies of his identification documents with the car hire service saying he needed to travel to Nyeri.
Mr Ngunjiri had reportedly become suspicious when Sammy Boy failed to return the vehicle on August 11, 2015. He soon learnt that it had been impounded in connection to a robbery case and taken to Gilgil Police Station.
Sammy Boy was eventually implicated and charged with robbery with violence alongside Simon Mwangi Nguyai, Robert Mwirigi Mureithi alias Keva, Elias Kiriithi Gichuki, Paul Thuita Wachira and Anthony Ndaiga Wandu.
When Sammy Boy was interrogated by detectives, he stuck to his narrative that the items belonged to his friend. He took the same defence to court during trial but after failing to prove his alibi, his defence was rejected.
“The said friend was never called to confirm. He never made any attempt through court to have the friend compelled to give his testimony. The burden was on him to show the items were not stolen. He failed to discharge that burden,” Chief magistrate Bidali said in his ruling.
During his highly publicised interview last week, Sammy Boy revealed the identity of his friend and supposed alibi as one Onesmus Karanja. He claims the friend died in a road accident a few years ago.
In an interesting turn of events, however, the name of the alibi has raised red flags among detectives in Nyeri. Apparently, Onesmus Karanja is in fact one of the many aliases of one of the musician’s accomplices, Elias Kiriithi Gichuki.
Kiriithi was profiled by police as one of Central Kenya’s most wanted criminals between 2017 and 2019. He was gunned down by police in a shootout during a botched robbery at Blue Valley area in Nyeri Town on October 10, 2019.
Kiriithi was at the time of his killing said to have been in the company of Paul Thuita Wachira. The two were at the time on trial for the Gilgil robbery but had skipped bond and absconded court appearances.
Thuita is still at large. Even though his alibi did not hold in the Gilgil robbery case, the four victims positively identified Sammy Boy and placed him at the crime scene, which convinced the court to send him to jail.
Police conducted identification parades where victims managed to pick out their tormentors from a line-up of suspects. The prosecution used this as its strongest piece of evidence, securing convictions against five of the suspects.
One of the suspects, Anthony Ndaiga Wandu, was acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence against him.
Sammy Boy, Robert Mwirigi Mureithi and Simon Mwangi Nguyai were all handed the death sentence on December 2, 2021.
“The case against the accused has been proved to the required standards. I find them guilty as charged and are convicted accordingly,” Chief magistrate Bidali said in his ruling.
Elias Kiriithi (deceased) and Paul Thuita were also convicted and sentenced in absentia. Sammy Boy said he would appeal the death sentence.