Mystery as top judge Odek found dead in his apartment

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019 00:00 |
Court of Appeal judge Otieno Odek. Photo/PD/FILE

Detectives were yesterday trying to piece together circumstances under which Court of Appeal judge Justice Otieno Odek died in his Kisumu apartment.

Justice Odek was on Monday morning found dead at his Milimani Estate residence about 50 metres from the Kisumu Central Police Station.

The body of the judge, who was staying alone in the Groovehut Apartments, was found on his bed. 

The father of two had lived in the apartment since moving to the lakeside city in February this year following his transfer from Nairobi.

The cause of the his death could not be immediately established.

Yesterday, detectives sealed the house and combed the scene to piece together information on the judge’s final moments. The death was reported at 8am.

Nyanza regional police commander Vincent Makokha said investigations into the cause of the death had started.

He said there were no signs of physical injury on the judge’s body, but blood was oozing from the ears and other body openings.

Makokha said the doors of the law scholar-turned-judge’s house were locked from inside and had to be broken by police.

The keys to the doors and mobile phones were found on the table and the TV was on.

According to Kisumu Chief Magistrate Julius Ngar Ngar, the judge’s driver found the door locked when he went to pick him up yesterday morning. The driver reported the matter to the police who went to the house and broke the door.

Prolific intellectual

The judge’s body was partly covered with a blanket with one of his hands supporting his head as he lay on his back, the police boss said.

He added that the judge drove himself home on Friday.

“We cannot ascertain when he died, whether it was on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or today morning and we are not sure of the cause of death. The pathologists will carry out a postmortem and establish the cause,” he said.

Yesterday, President Uhuru Kenyatta described the judge as a “prolific intellectual and a gifted legal mind”.

In his message of condolence, Uhuru said he was shocked and saddened by the death of the judge.

He said Odek’s death was not only a big blow to his family and the Judiciary but also to the whole country. 

“I convey my deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to Prof Justice James Otieno Odek’s family, relatives and friends,” he said.

Chief Justice David Maraga said Justice Odek was a legal scholar who was celebrated in Africa and beyond.

“On behalf of the Judiciary, the Judicial Service Commission and on my own behalf, I wish to express our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and the entire legal fraternity for this shocking loss,” said the Chief Justice. 

His colleague, Justice Patrick Kiage, who sat on the same bench with Odek, said the death was a big loss to the Judiciary fraternity. “It is a huge loss for the court. We have been shocked and saddened by the tragedy that has befallen us,” he said.

The Law Society of Kenya eulogised the judge as a brilliant and polite officer of the Bench.

LSK Kisumu chapter chair Bruce Odeny said Odek’s death came as a shock to the legal fraternity. “We will live to remember Justice Odek as a judge of high calibre who was brilliant in executing his duties. Some of the decisions he made could be used as reference legal points by colleagues,” he said.

Odek was born on October 18, 1963, in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu county. He unsuccessfully applied for the position of Supreme Court judge. He was appointed judge of the Court of Appeal in 2012.

Odek previously served as a senior lecturer and Dean at the Faculty of Law, University of Nairobi.

He also served as the Kenya Industrial Property Institute managing director from  2004 to 2012. Before moving to the Bench, he was partner at Tom Ojienda law firm.

But during the trial of Ojienda over corruption claims at Mumias Sugar Company, Odek testified against his former colleague who is facing Sh89 million fraud charges. Ojienda allegedly received the money as legal fees from the company.

Recused himself

Justice Odek will also be remembered for having upheld a decision that whenever the government has acquired land, no one else can lay claim to it.

His ruling was in relation to a case where Runda residents sought to be compensated by the government in relation to a project to expand the Northern Bypass.

In February last year, he disqualified himself from hearing an appeal filed by Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua challenging the High Court’s decision to dismiss her petition against the election of Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru.

 This was after Karua, through lawyer Gitobu Imanyara, asked him to recuse himself, citing bias.

Odek will also be remembered for having been on the Bench that in June ruled that boys are unfairly punished for consensual sex.

This was after the court freed a 26-year-old herdsboy, jailed for defiling a minor, after it found that the sex was consensual.

While making the ruling, justices Odek, Kiage and Asike Makhandia raised concern that the Sexual Offences Act could be skewed against the boy child.—Reporting by Noven Owiti, Viola Kosome and Nancy Gitonga

More on News