Family murder suspect not fit to stand trial

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 00:00 |
Lawrence Waruige when he appeared before a Kiambu law court yesterday for the mention of the murder case against him. Photo/PD/Oliver Musembi

Murder suspect Lawrence Warunge, who confessed to killing his four members and a farmhand early this month in Kiambu County, was yesterday declared mentally unfit to stand trial.

A psychiatric report presented before Kiambu Law Courts showed that Warunge was not mentally stable to plead to murder charges, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) urged the court to order the suspect to be held in custody at Mathari Mental hospital for one month to enable him undergo treatment. 

Chief Magistrate Patricia Gichohi granted the application, which will see Warunge held in police custody in Nairobi County until March 1, 2021, when the matter will be mentioned for further directions.

 However, Sarah Muthoni, Warunge’s girlfriend will be set free after the police failed to link her to the multiple murders. She will instead testify as a prosecution witness in the case. 

Detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) had arrested Ms Muthoni upon establishing that she had been asked by Warunge to buy for him a knife in Thika.

The 9-inch knife, with a metallic handle, was among the exhibits recovered.

The psychiatric test is mandatory for all courts handling murder cases in order to ensure a suspect has the capacity to plead to the charges.

According to the Kenyan law, a person cannot be charged in court if they are found to be of unsound mind.

Mental illness means a condition that seriously impairs, either temporarily or permanently, the mental functioning of a person.

It is usually characterised by the presence in the person of delusions, hallucinations, and serious disorder of thought form, among others.

The court will later consider the possibility of the guilty mind, commonly referred to as the mens rea, presumption of innocence, and fair trial.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists schizophrenia, depression and defects due to drug abuse, as some of the existing mental disorders, adding that most of them are treatable.

Warunge and Muthoni have been in police custody for the last fifteen days as the police conducted investigations into the matter.

When interrogated by police during the probe, Warunge confessed he killed his father Nicholas Njenga Warunge, mother Annie Njoroge and brother Maxwell and Cousin Christian and their mason James Kinyanjui.

 The 22-year-old student claimed in his confession that he chose to eliminate the four members of his nuclear family single-handedly because they were talking ill of him behind his back.

He told officers that he had initially planned to kill everyone including his two sisters who are in school, but his plans were foiled when the two returned to school on January 5. 

It is said Warunge was arrested in Kabete area after being on the run for three days following the gruesome murder of his family.

In the past, courts have in such cases delivered a special finding of ‘guilty but insane’ when it is established that an accused person, for example, was schizophrenic.

In such cases, suspects may be detained awaiting President’s order. The President may order the person to be detained in a mental hospital, prison or other suitable place of safe custody.

The special finding ensures insane offenders, who are found to be a potential threat to the security of other members of society, are placed at bay. Moreover, it promotes deterrence.

Section 12 of the Penal Code states that a person is not criminally responsible for an offence if at the time of committing the offence he is, through any disease affecting his mind incapable of understanding what he is doing.

The second test will confirm if he had the ability to form criminal intent or whether he had the ability to control conduct or understand that the action was wrong.

Warunge had confessed that in planning the murder, he was inspired by the psychopathic assassin Villanelle, real name Jodie Comer, in a British dark comedy-drama spy thriller TV series, Killing Eve.

He had also described his parents to police as “satanic and killers” and had planned the heinous murder for about three months. 

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