9 January 2010

Kenya: Last of Wanugu Gang to Hang

Nairobi — He was one of the four members of a notorious gang who went by the underworld names of Wacucu, Wanugu and Rasta, all felled by police bullets at the height of their criminal operations.

Anthony Ngugi Kanari (Wacucu), Gerald Wambugu Munyeria (Wanugu) and Bernard Matheri (Rasta) were gunned down by police in the 1990s in Kajiado, Nyahururu and Nakuru towns.

The fourth gang member - Timothy Irungu Ndegwa - survived but was arrested, charged in court and sentenced to death in 2002.

Last week the Court of Appeal drove the last nail into his coffin when it upheld the death sentence. The convict had filed an appeal, accusing the trial judge of believing the evidence of an "accomplice" without corroboration.

The gang is believed to have presided over high profile murders and robberies in Nairobi and neighbouring towns. In one of their orgy of incidents, the gang killed three people in one night and dumped bodies by the roadside.

A woman who narrated the incident of the night of November 13, 1995, was very vivid in her story.

The murder of army officer Geoffrey Baariu Luruti had been planned a few days earlier and was well executed, according to Zipporah Wangeci, who was described by the trial judge as a star witness.

"The details of the actual killing as narrated by her are so graphic that to think that she made them up, one would have to conclude that Zipporah would qualify as a very good fiction writer," said Judges R.S.C. Omolo, Samuel Bosire and Daniel Aganyanya.

Ndegwa was convicted in the murder of the officer on November 13, 1995. The officer, 43, was shot outside his house in Kahawa Sukari Estate.

Col Luruti had been attending a course at the Kenya Institute of Administration but opted to commute from his home everyday. According to his colleagues, he left KIA on the fateful night at around 11 p.m. He was never again to be seen alive.

His bullet-riddled body was found the following morning about three blocks away from his residence.

Ms Wangeci, who was in the company of the gang as it planned the killing, gave an account of how the officer was tracked down and killed.

According to her, she knew the gang very well and, fearing that a crime was about to be committed, reported the matter to the police but was ignored.

The woman said she first encountered the gang at Bamboo Bar in Nyamakima area in Nairobi where they bought her beer.

The gang had yet to agree where to execute the killing. While Wambugu was of the view that they kill the officer on the highway, his accomplices wanted him killed near his house so that the murder could be blamed on his wife.

Ms Wangeci said she left her house in Eastleigh together with Ndegwa on the night of November 13 and took a vehicle to town.

They were dropped in the city centre where they met their three accomplices in a saloon vehicle. They left the vehicle at Akamba Bus stage.

They boarded a taxi and ordered the driver to head to Dagoretti Corner. The driver was never seen alive after the job. His body was discovered at the City Mortuary a few days later. At Dagoretti Corner, they hired another driver whose body was also found dumped at Kikuyu.

Another taxi driver was hired and ordered to drive them to Mathare North where Wambugu changed his clothes, and they proceeded towards Githurai.

At Githurai Kimbo, they noticed the officer's vehicle, and the driver was ordered to give chase. They caught up with the officer as he turned towards his residence and was felled under a hail of bullets. His body was carried and placed a few metres from his house.

Ms Wangeci later said they drove towards town in the officer's vehicle and left it on the Thika highway. She was given Sh800 for a taxi to town where she rented a room near Kamukunji Police Station.

The following morning she reported the matter to the station, but she was dismissed. She went to the Nairobi Provincial Police Officer who believed her story.

Three days later, Ndegwa was arrested and charged with the murder of Col Luruti. In his defence, Ndegwa denied knowledge of the other three gangsters.

His lawyer had faulted the High Court judge for not treating Ms Wangeci as an accomplice, saying her evidence had not been corroborated.

The Court of Appeal, however, said she was a credible witness, and her evidence was fully corroborated.

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