Kenya: Mistaken Identity - Trader Was Robbed of 12 Years of His Life

Photo: The Nation
Victim
31 December 2017

You may never understand the pain that comes from being arrested out of mistaken identity until you hear the story of Harrison Murigi, a man who spent 12 years in detention for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

In December 2004, police were chasing robbers. Mr Murigi was standing by the road making a phone call. The robbers' car crashed and hit him.

MISTAKEN IDENTITY

The gang fled and by the time police arrived, he was the only one found at the scene. He was dragged to court and sentenced to death for robbery with violence.

Twelve years ago, Mr Murigi's life was full of promise. He was nearly two years into his marriage. Together with his wife Susan Wangui, then 23, they were happy parents of a one-year-old daughter.

Financially, Mr Murigi was doing fine as a vegetable vendor. With this source of income, he ensured a comfortable life for his young family.

Things were looking up but little did he know that his promising life would take a turn for the worse on December 16, 2004.

ARREST

That day, he was heading to Nyeri with other mourners to attend a friend's funeral.

"As we approached Sagana, I received a call from a friend who asked me to alight at Kibirigwi for a brief meeting to discuss a business deal. I decided to join the other mourners later," he says.

But, that was not to be. Things happened so fast. Minutes after alighting, at around 12 pm, as he was talking on his phone beside the road, a strange thing happened.

"Police were chasing a vehicle which I would later come to find out had been stolen and its occupants were suspected robbers," he explains.

He says the vehicle crashed and hit him, and its three occupants fled leaving him injured.

"When the police came, I was arrested as one of the suspects. The fact that I had a driving licence with me made things worse as they branded me the driver of the ill-fated vehicle," he recalls.

CHARGED

Mr Murigi says attempts to clear his name were futile. Even efforts by the robbery victim, who was pulled from the boot of the car, did not convince the police officers otherwise.

"I remember the man insisting that I wasn't one of the people who had carjacked and robbed him at gunpoint," he says.

He was arrested and charged with robbery with violence. This marked the beginning of what would be the most traumatising 12 years of his life -- facing different trials that saw him sentenced to death twice.

During this period, he went through years of court appearances and appeals. His first conviction came in 2006, when he was sentenced to death. He appealed against the sentence after 14 days and was lucky to get another hearing on October 2008.

12 YEARS

But it just got worse. Between 2009 and 2010 he went through a retrial, and once again was slapped with a death sentence and detained at the notorious Kamiti prison.

"I was transferred between King'ong'o and Naivasha prisons as I continued to appeal against my sentence while seeking a new trial. In 2013, my dream of getting a new trial came true," says Mr Murigi.

But, his joy was short-lived as his case was once again pushed to 2016 due to shortage of judges.

But on October 4, 2016, he was exonerated and released after judges ruled that it was a mistrial and that there was lack of evidence against him.

FREEDOM

That marked his new journey to freedom and a new beginning with his wife and daughter who had a year left to sit the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination.

"My wife stood by me, never missing a visiting day at prison and appearing in every court session together with my parents. All I needed to do was to call her and there she was," he says.

But once again, that joy of freedom has somehow proven to be short-lived. Mr Murigi has faced the hard task of relaunching his life and getting a source of income to support his family that has since grown.

He now has twin daughters besides his 13-year-old firstborn and the hard part is raising them without their mother, who died in August while giving birth.

"On August 16, 2017, my wife Susan went through a Caesarian section. Unfortunately, she died hours later," says the matatu driver.

SINGLE PARENT

Four months on, the 38-year-old has barely had time to mourn his wife. With a family to feed and three girls who need his attention, there is little time left for anything else.

He has had to learn how to prepare milk formula for his twins as well as change their diapers, bathe and soothe them to sleep, getting help once in a while from relatives.

"I don't want to trouble anyone in the middle of the night to feed or change them, unless on the rare occasion when they both wake up at the same time," he says.

He has also learnt to keep a keen eye on the calendar, ensuring that he doesn't miss the clinic appointments.

"Right now they've already received two vaccinations," says the father with a soft smile while holding one twin.

HOPE

What keeps him going, he says, is his 13-year-old daughter who, according to him, is too mature for her age.

"I remember one time I was crying and she noticed. She told me, 'I would be worried if mum had left me alone. But now you're here and together with the twins our family is strong.' And my tears went dry," he says.

Murigi added that being a staunch Christian, who has trained in chaplaincy, his faith has grown.

In the meantime, the struggle continues, working as a part-time matatu driver, as well as trying to fit into his wife's shoes.

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