How Events Leading To Sentencing In Willie Kimani Murder Case Unfolded

Justice Lessit issued the verdict after both the prosecution and the defence team called witnesses and provided evidence in court...

How Events Leading To Sentencing In Willie Kimani Murder Case Unfolded
Collage of former police officer Fredrick Leliman and slain lawyer Willie Kimani. /FILE

After nearly six years of untold anguish following the murder of lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwendwa and taxi driver, Joseph Muiruri on June 23, 2016, the High Court handed its sentencing to Police officers Fredrick Leliman (main suspect), Stephen Cheburet and Sylvia Wanjiku and informer Peter Ngugi.

Justice Jessie Lesit ruled on Friday, February 3 that Leliman was sentenced to death while the second accused was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The third accused, on the other hand, will serve 24 years in prison while the police informer was sentenced to 20 years.

The four police officers, Fredrick Leliman, Stephen Cheburet, Sylvia Wanjiku and police informer Peter Ngugi in court over the murder of lawyer Willie Kimani. /TWITTER

Justice Lessit issued the verdict after both the prosecution and the defence team called witnesses and provided evidence in court, in a case that took nearly six years to crack.

Viral Tea revisits the chronology of events in the Willie Kimani murder case, which can be traced to as far back as 2015: 


April 10: Josephat Mwenda is stopped by police officer Fredrick Leliman, who accidentally shoots him in the hand. Three days later, Mwenda is charged with three counts: drug possession, gambling and resisting arrest.

Mwenda files a complaint against the officer at the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and Lawyer Willie Kimani begins investigating the case on behalf of International Justice Mission (IJM), an international NGO that helps the vulnerable get justice. 

December 14: Leliman and other police officers abduct Mwenda from his home at night. The next day, Mwenda is charged with six additional counts of traffic violations. Leliman claims Mwenda was violating the law while riding a motorcycle despite the fact that his gunshot injury to his hand prevented him from doing so.


February 14: IJM officially takes on Mwenda's case Lawyer Willie Kimani begins investigating the case after it's assigned to him by the IJM, an international NGO that helps the vulnerable get justice. 

Later the same month, Mwenda, his co-accused and lawyer Kimani are detained after a court hearing by police officers who say they want to question the men about a robbery with violence case that had happened in Meru. They are held for several hours and then released with no further explanation. 

February 24: IJM writes to the office of the Inspector General of Police, IPOA and the Witness Protection Agency (WPA) to complain about Leliman’s misconduct and to request protection for Mwenda. 

March 1: WPA decision on witness protection for Mwenda is pending – because he is an accused in the ongoing court case and not a victim, thus the law does not guarantee him protection.

March 16: IPOA summons Leliman to submit a statement about the claims of misconduct.

June 23: Lawyer Kimani, Mwenda and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri are abducted after leaving court following a hearing on the traffic violation charges. The three are held in a police container at the station without being booked. Kimani manages to scribble a note on a piece of tissue. In it, he notes down the number of his client's wife and asks whoever sees it to tell her to get help. 

The rider attempts to call Mwenda's wife, but she did not pick it up as she did not recognise the number. He throws away the tissue. By that evening, the IJM team mounts a search to find them, going to police stations and calling out their names, but they had been removed from the station at 7:30 pm, prior to the time IJM staff arrived. 

It was estimated that the three men were killed at about 10:00 pm.

June 24-29: A missing persons report is filed. IJM staff and police continue to search in police stations and morgues. The men's mobile phones are found scattered. Details of the story enter the public sphere creating an uproar and lawyers in Kenya go on strike. IJM and Police Reforms Working Group (PRWG) publish a press release on June 29.

June 30-July 1: The bodies of Willie, Joseph and Josephat are discovered in a river in Ol Donyo Sabuk.

June 30: The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) files a habeas corpus application requiring persons in police custody to be produced in court. The application seeks to have the three missing men produced alive or dead (at this point, the discovery of their bodies had not been announced). 

Later, the bodies are positively identified and IJM holds a press conference to announce the deaths.

July 1-5: Four police officers are detained in connection with the killings.

July 4-8: Lawyers strike and hold marches to protest extrajudicial killings. IJM staff join LSK in the marches.

July 8: Memorial service for Willie, Joseph and Josephat. Gary Haugen, the CEO of IJM, speaks.

July 9: Willie Kimani is buried. 

July 11: Josephat Mwenda is buried. 

July 18: Four police suspects are formally charged.

August 11: Judgement for habeas corpus filing finds that the police failed to act on Mwenda's IPOA complaint, says the men might have been alive if they did.

August 23: A 5th suspect, a civilian, is charged. 

November 10: Trial starts.


May: Machozi Ya Jana, a song, by Juliani, is released to bring attention to police abuse of power. 

June: First-anniversary commemoration. Community dialogues are held to allow neighbourhoods with high levels of police abuse of power to share their experiences – 68 cases of what appears to be Extrajudicial killings (EJKs) or  Enforced Disappearances (EDs) were identified, and 22 of these cases later formed the basis of a class action suit. The dialogues were attended by police representatives. 

July: IJM and partners in civil society including the Police Reform Working Group (PRWG-K) launch an online petition for the removal of Deputy Police IG Samuel Arachi from office.  They submit a petition with demands to the President of Kenya to “secure justice for three and safety for all.”  At this point, 40,000 people have signed the petition. 


January: Deputy IG Arachi is removed.

August: Missing Voices is established by civil society groups to compile and share data on police killings and disappearances. 

September: President Uhuru Kenyatta announces far-reaching police reforms, including the streamlining of the police command structure to allow greater oversight and accountability. Members of the PRWG-K, including IJM, are invited to give their views on the reforms.

November: A class-action suit is filed by IJM and 22 victims of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.


February: ODPP collaborates with IPOA to commence the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to streamline and enhance efficiency in investigating and prosecuting cases of human rights violations by police.

June 8: Decision to Charge guidelines are released. The guidelines will protect victims like Mwenda against charges brought by police that have no evidence.

October: In response to the class-action suit, the court orders the Inspector General to investigate 22 cases of police killings that took place between 2014 and 2017.

The Verdict

July 22, 2022: Four police officers found guilty over Willie Kimani's murder. However, the fifth accused, Administration Police (AP) officer Leonard Mwangi, was acquitted of all three counts of murder.

February 3, 2023: Justice Lessit hands the sentencing to the four accused. Leliman was sentenced to death.

The accused persons in the murder of lawyer Willie Kimani from left are Peter Ngugi, Leonard Mwangi, Stephen Cheburet and Fredrick Leliman during the final judgement at Milimani law courts on Friday, July 22, 2022. /TWITTER