Kenya: Court Frees Rwandan Woman Jailed Over Friend's Murder in Love Triangle

26 September 2020

A foreign national sentenced to life in prison two years ago, for allegedly murdering a friend in a love triangle, has been freed by the Court of Appeal sitting in Nairobi.

Ms Antoinette Uwineza alias Micheline Uwababyyi, a Rwandan, was convicted and sentenced by Resident Judge Jessie Lesiit on November 1, 2018 in the killing of Winnie Uwambaye Colpitts, also a Rwandan.

Colpitts' body was found at Saharan Lodge in Nairobi, covered with bed sheets. She had been strangled with a polythene bag.

Colpitts and her British boyfriend Simon James Smith had been living at Rhapta Road Apartments in Westlands. She left her home that fateful day, February 16, 2013, with a promise to join Mr Smith for dinner later.

The boyfriend told Justice Lesiit that somebody later called him, saying Colpitts had left for Nakuru with friends. Her body was found two days later and was identified at the mortuary by Mr Smith and her sister.

Investigations led to Ms Uwineza's arrest alongside a man found using Colpitts' phone in Kayole, Nairobi.

The man was acquitted for lack of evidence linking him to Colpitts' death but Ms Uwineza was convicted, the court noting that she was the last person to communicate with Colpitts.

Ruling overturned

While overturning the judgment, three appellate judges concurred with defence lawyer John Swaka, who said the prosecution failed to prove the case against the accused.

Judges Martha Koome, Hannah Okwengu and Fatuma Sichale accused police of failing to live up to their motto - Utumishi kwa Wote (service to all) - by not piecing together evidence to find the real killers.

The judges noted that police relied on information given by Mr Smith and did nothing more.

"Police appear to have done nothing to trace Winnie or her killers upon receiving crucial leads."

The judges, who analysed evidence presented at the High Court and the defence's argument that Ms Uwineza did not meet the victim on the day she died, concluded that the wheels of justice had to be tilted in her favour.

Errors

The judges said Justice Lesiit erred in finding Ms Uwineza guilty of murdering a person she did not meet at the lodging where the body was found.

"We find that the evidence produced against Antoinette fell short of proving she inflicted injuries on Winnie, either alone or in concert with others," they said, adding there was no malice aforethought.

"It is our finding that the circumstantial evidence relied upon to convict Antoinette did not meet the required standards as it neither led irresistibly to her guilt nor was it compatible with her innocence."

"We allow this appeal, quash the conviction and set aside the sentence of life imprisonment. We set her free, unless she is otherwise lawfully held."

The judges further said that what the prosecution managed to prove was that Colpitts was killed.

"Colpitts and the appellant had spoken earlier. Antoinette crushed her phone and gave it to her brother, claiming she had stolen it from a caucasian man and did not want him to trace it to her.

"The appellant and another man booked the room in which Colpitts' body was found. How she entered the room without being seen remains a mystery," the judges said.

No eye witness was called to testify in the case in which the prosecution was represented by Senior State Prosecutor Moses O'Mirera.

Ms Uwineza walked out of Lang'ata Women's Prison following the ruling on Friday after the authorities were served with a release warrant.

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