Michael’s Long Road to Freedom Finally Ends in a Kenyan Court

IJM Kenya Director of Casework Benson Shamala, left, pictured with a jubilant Michael outside the court where he was finally declared innocent. Michael told IJM: "You have protected me and I will never forget about you."
IJM Kenya Director of Casework Benson Shamala, left, pictured with a jubilant Michael outside the court where he was finally declared innocent. Michael told IJM: "You have protected me and I will never forget about you."

NAIROBI, KENYA – After languishing in prison for 18 months for a crime he hadn't committed, and enduring another 18 months of uncertainty after he was released on bail pending an appeal of the wrongful conviction, Michael's name was finally cleared today in Kenya.

Michael's radiant smile was matched by those of the IJM advocates and staff who have walked so closely with him on this long road to freedom. On the way to the court—even before the judge overturned the earlier ruling and declared him free at last—Michael said: “I have joy in my heart because I know the victory belongs to the Lord.”

A Battle for Justice

IJM's team of lawyers and social workers met Michael in early 2010. When the IJM team in Kenya first heard his story, they were outraged—but not shocked—that Michael had been imprisoned for a capital offense without any substantive evidence.

Michael had worked as a night guard for a prominent Nairobi citizen and UN Security Officer for more than a decade. In 2009, armed thugs broke in, shot his employer and robbed the home. Michael helped report the violent crime to police, but in a ludicrous turn of events, Michael and his son were pulled into the case as suspect, rather than as witnesses. Both father and son ended up in prison facing charges of robbery with violence and falsifying information to police.

IJM attorneys pushed the case through trial, confident that it would result in freedom, as there was literally no case at all against Michael and his son. But in a surprising and confusing judgment, the court set Michael's son free, but convicted Michael of robbery with violence—a capital offense that carries life imprisonment with no chance of parole. According to IJM Kenya's director at the time, Joseph Kibugu, the ruling was "so-called 'result-oriented justice.' Someone—didn't matter who—had to pay for the crime. It was Michael."

As IJM launched an appeal, they also advocated for Michael to be freed on bail while he waited. The elderly man simply did not have years to spend in prison while a new set of hearings was scheduled.

No Kenyan judge had ever granted bail to a person convicted of a capital offense, but IJM attorneys made a strong case based on a provision in Kenya's new constitution. In May 2011, in an historic ruling, the Kenya High Court released Michael on bail; the judge stated that keeping him in prison would not serve the interest of justice.

Michael was reunited with his wife, and IJM championed his case in a slow moving appeal of the conviction.

Free at Last

By 7:30 a.m. on December 10, Michael had arrived at the now-familiar IJM office, dressed in his suit and ready for his final court date. The appellate court concluded Michael's hearing in October of this year; today the judge would read out the verdict.

IJM Kenya Director of Casework Benson Shamala said Michael was calm, and seemed to be filled with a remarkable peace. Michael wanted to  pray with IJM staff before they headed to the court. Benson read from Psalm 116—a passage from Scripture that Michael read when he attended IJM’s Global Prayer Gathering in 2012 and urged people to pray for the scores of innocent men like him. After reading the powerful words, Benson said it was “as if Michael himself had written this psalm.”

The IJM team was jubilant and celebrated with Michael and his wife, Nancy, before helping the couple go home. The long road to freedom had finally ended.

Benson reflected on the case and Michael's steadfast faith throughout: "It never ceases to amaze me. Every single step there was something that happened that is extraordinary." He added a refrain from Psalm 116, "Indeed, today, we can say the Lord has broken his chains!"  

Africa, Illegal Detention