12 May 2009

I feel bad for the guy but he needs to go to jail

Thomas Cholmondeley offers compensation for his freedom

Thomas Cholmondeley, the white Kenyan aristocrat convicted of killing a black poacher on his father's ranch, has offered to pay compensation to his victim's widow in return for his freedom.

By Mike Pflanz in Nairobi
Last Updated: 1:11PM BST 12 May 2009


Thomas Cholmondeley was found guilty last week of the manslaughter of Robert Njoya, 37, in May 2006 Photo: AP

This would be enough to allow the interests of justice to be served even though the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, his lawyer told a packed sentencing hearing at Nairobi High Court.

Cholmondeley, the Eton-educated sole heir to the 5th Baron Delamere, was found guilty last week of the manslaughter of Robert Njoya, 37, in May 2006.

Fred Ojiambo, Cholmondeley's barrister, told Mr Justice Muga Apondi: "My client, his parents Lord and Lady Delamere and the entire family feel and share the anguish of the Njoya family."

"They entertain the hope and the confidence that it will be possible, to the extent humanly possible, to assuage the pain and suffering by both sides by meeting whatever material and spiritual needs which may arise," he said.

"Our humble submission is that a sentence which intends and allows for the accused person to participate in [the Njoyas'] welfare would best meet the ends of justice in this matter."

Njoya's 31-year-old widow, Serah, has struggled to raise their four sons on her meagre earnings selling vegetables.

She said after the hearing that she would be happy with a ruling which guaranteed her financial security and allowed Cholmondeley to walk free after 1,097 days on remand.

But Keriako Tobiko, the chief prosecutor, said sentencing should note the seriousness of the offence, the nature of the victim's injuries, and the fact that he had died from a bullet fired by Cholmondeley's high-velocity rifle.

While he did not call for a specific punishment, Mr Tobiko reminded the court that "manslaughter is an offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment".

Mr Justice Apondi will hand down the sentence on Thursday.

Mr Ojiambo's statement has opened the door to Cholmondeley being released after "time served", which may lead to protests over its apparent leniency.

The end of the three-year trial has provoked widespread debate among ordinary Kenyans and the country's small community of whites descended from the original British settler families.

Nairobi's colonial-era High Court was packed with television crews, Cholmondeley's family and friends, Mr Njoya's relatives and dozens of onlookers for the hearing.

Cholmondeley, 40, wearing handcuffs, stumbled and fell amid jostling by a scrum of media as a phalanx of police officers led him into the courtroom.

He was originally charged with the murder of Mr Njoya, but Mr Justice Apondi commuted that to manslaughter.

The trial has touched on many of Kenya's long-running neuroses relating to land ownership, relations between whites and blacks, and between the country's tiny rich minority and its vast majority of poor.

It has also drawn comparisons with the 1941 White Mischief trial.

The lover of Cholmondeley's step-grandmother was shot dead on the outskirts of Nairobi but his murderer has to this day never been found.

That trial caused a sensation in wartime Britain.

It lifted the lid on the hedonistic lifestyle of a notorious band of European aristocrats and playboys who swapped wives, took drugs and drank themselves into oblivion in what became known as Happy Valley.