NAIROBI, Kenya – A descendant of Kenya's most famous white settlers went on trial Monday for murder in the shooting death of a black man on his vast estate, a case that has stirred simmering racial tensions in this east African nation.
Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko offered revenge as the motive at the start of the trial of Thomas Cholmondeley, 38. Cholmondeley, who says he fired in self-defense, faces the death penalty if convicted in what is the second time in just over a year that he shot dead a black man on Soysambu, the family's 100,000-acre farm.
"The accused attacked the deceased and his companions as retaliation or revenge for trespassing and poaching," Tobiko told the hushed courtroom in the capital Nairobi.
Educated at Eton, one of Britain's most exclusive schools, Cholmondeley showed no emotion as prosecutors outlined their case against him. He sat with his legs crossed and hands firmly clasped together.
Cholmondeley's attorney, Fred Ojiambo, said in May when his client was charged that Cholmondeley was out walking with a friend on his estate when they came across a four men carrying a dead impala. He said the men unleashed several dogs and Cholmondeley fired in self-defense, hitting 37-year-old Robert Njoya Wambugu, who died en route to a hospital.
Cholmondeley was arrested along with rally driver Carl Tundo after he phoned the police to tell them about the shooting.
"In this case, the lies are being orchestrated to make him look like the guy who shoots Africans for sport," lawyer Ojiambo told The Associated Press at the time.
White landowners complain about increasing crime and say they feel threatened on their isolated holdings. But Monday, the prosecutor dismissed such explanations.
"The accused was not under any attack or threat from the deceased or any of his companions. In an attempt to conceal his crime or hinder investigations the accused tampered with the scene after shooting the deceased and two dogs," the prosecutor said.
Last year, a murder case against Cholmondeley was dropped after high-level government intervention, enraging Kenyans who say he received special treatment. Cholmondeley said he mistook an undercover game warden for a robber in that shooting.
Both cases have exposed deep tensions about the British presence in Kenya, with many citizens resentful that the best land was taken over by the British government during colonial times. After independence in 1963, many departing settlers transferred land to Africans, with Britain underwriting some of the costs.
Some settlers, including Cholmondeley's family, kept their land and became Kenyan citizens. But now, an increasing number of Kenyans are saying the land simply doesn't belong to whites.