NAIROBI, KENYA – With a single gunshot, Zakayo’s life changed forever.
Just minutes before, the young father had climbed into a crowded bus at the end of a long workday in Nairobi. His wife, Joyce, and four children were waiting at home.
But when the bus driver abruptly announced he was raising the fares, passengers around Zakayo began protesting and spilled out angrily to the street. Nearby police fired warning shots to gain control of the crowd, and Zakayo was hit in the leg. He spent the next two and a half months recovering in hospital.
On the same day Zakayo was discharged from the hospital, police showed up to arrest him.
Officers falsely accused Zakayo of Robbery with Violence, alleging that he attacked the bus driver and other passengers during the chaos. The allegations were totally false.
It was the start of a nightmare: He wasn’t allowed to see his family, but was quickly sent off to prison and learned he would face a life sentence parole if found guilty.
Zakayo knew he was innocent and there was no evidence against him—but no one would listen. It would be more than a year before he walked in freedom again.
Family Left Struggling at Home
The false charges devastated Zakayo’s family at home. His wife, Joyce, tried to visit him when she could afford the bus fare, but the children were not allowed inside the prison. And without Zakayo there to provide income, Joyce became the sole breadwinner for the family.
“Life was hard,” Joyce later told an IJM Kenya lawyer. “My landlord kicked me out after I was unable to pay rent…I had to search for work, washing clothes for people whenever I could to feed our children.”
Joyce moved her children in with relatives, but still struggled to meet their basic needs. All four were forced to drop out of school. She couldn’t afford a lawyer to help clear Zakayo’s name, and no one would help her.
A social worker from IJM Kenya heard about Zakayo’s case and Joyce’s struggles. When they first spoke, the exhausted mother poured out her story—hopeful that life could soon change.
IJM began work on the case to prove Zakayo’s innocence, and the aftercare team helped Joyce to start a small grocery business to support the family in the meantime. With this income, the children were able to re-enroll in a primary school.
A Relentless Fight for Release
Meanwhile, Zakayo was growing more and more distraught trapped in prison.
IJM attorneys visited him regularly to encourage him as they prepared his case for court. They had found no evidence to support the violent robbery charges; in fact, there were no records of a robbery taking place during the commotion at all. It appeared to be the officers’ ploy to avoid blame for the chaos.
Faced with this stunning lack of evidence, IJM attorneys advocated again and again for Zakayo to be released from prison on bail as the trial progressed. After courts initially denied the request , Zakayo was later granted bail and, in May 2012, was able to step outside in freedom after more than a year in prison.
Two of his children stood waiting for their dad the day he returned. They ran to see each other and jumped into a huge hug. The reunion was a sweet one, but the journey was not yet over.
Defending Zakayo’s Innocence
Zakayo was free on bail, but as the trial continued, the family lived in constant fear: If he was found guilty, he could be taken away again—this time for life.
IJM relentlessly defended Zakayo in court for the next two years. Attorneys disproved the allegations against the young father, including a false charge that he was holding a gun when he was shot.
“This was one of the most difficult cases I’ve dealt with,” explains IJM Kenya Attorney James Kironji. “Four police officers conspired against Zakayo, making their testimonies against him seem consistent.”
Judgment was set to be delivered in February 2014, but it was delayed over and over. Each time, Zakayo’s family prepared emotionally for him to be fully freed or thrown back in jail—only to go home still not knowing, and not sure how much longer they would wait.
A Thrilling Decision Brings True Freedom
On May 22, 2014, Zakayo’s family and his IJM team filed into the courtroom one last time. Zakayo toyed nervously with his hat in his hands, as his wife, sister and father waited with bated breath, straining to hear the verdict.
At last, the magistrate delivered his decision: “I find the accused not guilty and acquit him.”
Zakayo and his family filed back out of the room in silence, but then the celebrations broke out. They shouted and laughed together in joy.
“Zakayo was brave and flawlessly credible throughout his defense,” says Kironji. He celebrated alongside the family, rejoicing that “the magistrate saw through this web of lies to Zakayo’s innocence.”
Driving to the IJM office from the courts that day, Joyce called her pastor excitedly to share the news. In between bouts of resounding laughter, she exclaimed, “Pastor, we are free and free indeed!”
IJM aftercare will continue to support Zakayo and his family as they move forward with their lives free from fear.
IJM continues to support credible police in Kenya to hold dangerous individuals accountable for their crimes and make lasting change possible. Every story like Zakayo’s proves that justice for the poor can be a reality. Learn more about IJM’s work in defending innocent prisoners.