In 2015 Jacinta Mumbi Irungu, a mother of two, ran a small catering business in a community outside of Nairobi. She would wake up early to cook food at home and supply it to various events such as weddings, parties, and other celebrations. As the business proved successful, she was able to hire cab drivers to transport the food within the neighborhood.
One day Jacinta was approached by a neighbor who wanted to hire a cab to transport his family upcountry for a traditional wedding. She referred him to a regular cab driver she had worked with to transport food for her business.
While the neighbor was using the vehicle, the neighbor was arrested by the police and the vehicle was impounded. The vehicle had allegedly been stolen at gunpoint a few weeks earlier. Jacinta was surprised to learn this and was willing to narrate to the police how she had used the vehicle from the said cab driver. She even helped the police by taking them to the cab owner from whom she had hired the vehicle.
Arrested with No Evidence
With no evidence, the police proceeded to arrest and charge Jacinta with the offense of robbery with violence and an alternate charge of handling stolen goods. The charge carries the death penalty in Kenya.
No one ever identified Jacinta in the robbery and she did not possess the allegedly stolen motor vehicle. She did not even know how to drive or own a driving license. Framed for a crime she did not commit, and with the prosecution unwilling to withdraw the charges against her, Jacinta would spend the next seven years with the possibility of life in prison constantly hanging over her head.
Because she could not afford bail, Jacinta’s children were left without a caregiver while she was locked up in remand. Jacinta would weep every time the matter came to court and she saw her children.
IJM Kenya learned of the case in 2016 and began to represent Jacinta to fight for her rights. In order to help her care for her children, IJM paid a cash bail of nearly $1,300 in October 2016 to secure her release. Jacinta was all tears after being reunited with her children. She would face further challenges at her home, including harassment and victimization by her landlord and neighbors. Whenever there was any incident of stealing or crime reports in the neighborhood, they would suspect and implicate her. Her children were also victimized. This forced IJM to relocate her elsewhere after attempting unsuccessfully to intervene with her landlord.
Challenges Faced in the Trial
When IJM attorney Edward came on board to represent Jacinta, he tried to convince the prosecutor to withdraw charges against her as she was innocent, but the prosecutor declined. The matter was adjourned many times as the Prosecution failed to avail witnesses on numerous occasions. Magistrates presiding over the matter were also transferred several times, occasioning further delays in the case.
In 2019, Jacinta’s co-accused jumped bail and was never re-arrested, which occasioned further adjournments in the case. IJM applied for her trial to proceed separately from the co-accused and this request was granted by the Court in October 2021. The prosecution failed to avail any further witnesses apart from the initial 6 and the court forced them to close their case. In her defense, IJM pleaded her innocence and asked the court to look at the complete lack of evidence against her and set her free.
On May 26th, 2022, almost seven years after Jacinta was falsely accused, the court acquitted Jacinta of all charges. Jacinta was in tears again, only this time they were tears of joy, tears of freedom. She is grateful to God and to IJM for fighting to prove her innocence and secure her freedom.