NAIROBI, Kenya – A Kenyan judge sparked outrage after he sentenced the grandson of an English baron to eight months in prison for killing a black man on his estate, a significantly lower penalty than the maximum sentence of life in prison. Masaai protesters in court shouted as the judgment was read.
Thomas Cholmondeley was convicted of manslaughter last week for the 2006 shooting of a 37-year-old black poacher. He had initially been charged with murder and has been in prison since his May 2006 arrest.
High Court Judge Muga Apondi reduced the charge to manslaughter on May 7, saying Cholmondeley showed no malice or intent when he shot Robert Njoya.
"I do believe deeply that the process has humbled the accused person," Apondi said. "In view of the total circumstances, I hereby wish to impose a light sentence on the accused."
Judge Apondi was interrupted by several traditionally dressed Masaai who began shouting and waving banners, denouncing Cholmondeley and demanding justice for the families of the two men he had shot.
The prosecution said it would consider appealing the sentence.
James Muthui, a defense lawyer, said it wasn't clear whether Cholmondeley would be released immediately due to time already served because the last portion of the judgment was drowned out by the protesters. He said the lawyers were waiting for a written copy of the judgment.
The shooting of Njoya was the second time in just over a year that Cholmondeley had shot a black man to death on his vast, largely ungated farm in the Rift Valley. The lake-studded property was once dubbed "Happy Valley" because of the decadent lifestyles of its colonial settlers.
Charges against Cholmondeley were dropped in the first shooting case amid accusations of high-level government intervention, enraging Kenyans who say he received special treatment because he is an heir to Britain's Lord Delamere.
Cholmondeley's lawyer, Fred Ojiambo, said he was happy with the judge's decision Thursday.
"I think it is a reasonable sentence," said Ojiambo. "The judge was very just."
Cholmondeley has spent about three years in a maximum security prison, a long way from his luxurious upbringing. He was educated at Eton, one of Britain's most exclusive schools, and is the great-grandson of the third Baron Delamere, one of Kenya's first politically powerful white settlers more than a century ago.
The case has received intense media scrutiny because of Cholmondeley's aristocratic heritage and his grandfather's place in Kenyan lore.
The fourth Baron Delamere, his grandfather, was married to Diana Broughton, whose lover was shot in the head on the outskirts of Nairobi in the 1940s.
Broughton's first husband, Jock Broughton, was tried for murder and acquitted, an episode that inspired the book "White Mischief," which also was made into a 1987 film starring Charles Dance and Greta Scacchi. The book highlighted the adulterous, alcoholic lives of some of Kenya's early colonialists.