BIG READ: Death penalty escapist, says ex-death row inmate

Some argue for it, while others are against it.

In Summary
  • Kaberia argues a long prison sentence is severe enough and appropriate punishment for capital offences.
  • Though death penalty has not been carried out since 1987, it remains in the statute books. 
No-one has been executed in Kenya over the three two decades
No-one has been executed in Kenya over the three two decades

Hang him, or her, is probably what runs through the mind when we read about cold-blooded murders, rape, violent robbery and other heinous crimes. 

Though the death penalty remains in the country's statute books, no execution has been carried out since 1987. The Supreme Court quashed the mandatory death penalty, but it remains discretionary.

This means judges can and still sentence people to death, but it is not carried out. Nothing, however, stops it from being carried out. 

Some people argue for it, an eye for an eye, they say; while others are against it—give convicts a chance to reform, they argue. 

Moses Kaberia, 48, is one of those who thinks the death penalty should be abolished. He argues that longer prison sentences are humane compared to the death penalty.

He speaks from experience. 

Kaberia, a former detective, was convicted of robbery with violence in 2013 and sentenced to death. By the time of his sentencing, he had been at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison for eight years.

He spent five more years in prison while pursuing his appeal and was eventually set free in October last year. 

"You never know the value of freedom until you lose it," he says.

Even though he advocates longer sentences instead of the death penalty, Kaberia says prison life is awful. 

You are crammed in stuffy rooms and relieve yourself in a bucket, he says. Sometimes the prisoners are forced to strip naked in front of other inmates, something that "rips you apart literally, killing the little life left inside of you," he says

"Imagine having to strip completely naked before kids and older men. You have to relieve yourself right in front of them. Prison robs you of your dignity. There is no privacy in there," Kaberia says. "It's like you strip before you parents and children."

For a long time he was bitter and could only think about vengeance. Later he developed suicidal thoughts.  

Kaberia was arrested in 2005 and accused of robbery with violence. He says his boss framed him and had him locked up thanks to negligent police service and justice system.  

In 2005 Kaberia was stationed in Embu as a CID (now DCI) detective. He ran a side hustle that saw him travel to Nairobi and Thika whenever he had some free time.

On the day of his arrest, he was in Thika when he was flagged down by his colleagues in plain clothes. They told him boss had ordered them to take him to Kerugoya police station—a polite way of getting arrested. 

At Kerugoya, Kaberia was locked up for many days but was not told why. His colleagues were under strict instruction not let him know what was going on, he says. 

One of them, however, copied the details of the OB and showed them to him. He had been accused of robbing someone of a mobile phone. It was then that he remembered he had shortchanged his boss some time back. 

"We were with a colleague and we got a Sh210,000 bribe. We were supposed to share with the boss equally but I took his share," he says. 

That was a while back, he says, and he thought the boss had forgotten about it. Except, the grudge lived on. He was a marked man. 

"So after a long time, we crossed paths again," he says, explaining that they differed over job interviews. Kaberia thinks this might have been the straw that broke the camel's back. 

"When the case went to trial, I thought with the advantage of being an insider, this [the case] would not go anywhere. I was also confident that given that the charge was manufactured, I would not be convicted," he says.

He was wrong. 

His trial was shrouded in controversy, with the police refusing to avail crucial documents, including the original OB, which he believed would help exonerate him.

In fact, he says, a mix of multiple judge recusals, missing files, postponed court sittings, delays and frivolous objections contributed to his getting convicted.

Time in prison

In prison he found himself with inmates he had arrested. From being a detective he now had to submit to prison warders, who were running the show.

“It was really hard accepting my situation. Some of the prisoners who I had arrested were there. The warders, whom as officers we did not hold in high regard, were now the boss. This was a big humiliation,” Kaberia says.

The warders would beat the inmates for the flimsiest of reasons just to break them and get them to toe the line.

For example, prisoners would be flogged for “stealing the sun”. “Inmates are allowed to bask in the sun for a limited time. If we extended this even for a second, our skin would pay for it for stealing the sun,” he says. 

Kaberia says, however, he would rather put up with this harsh life than face the hangman. In fact, he says, prison life is humane compared to the death sentence.

Spending all those many years behind bars makes one lonely; life passes by without you noticing, he says. 

“When a lady would appear in our sight, it would cause a stampede. We would rush to go see her as though she were something strange,” Kaberia says.

“When I came out in 2018, I didn’t know what WhatsApp was. I thought someone was greeting me when I first heard the word.” 

Kaberia secured his freedom in October 2018 after arguing his own appeal. He trained as a lawyer while in prison and used the knowledge to have his conviction overturned.

He says in prison, away from one's family, life grinds to a halt.

“Imagine leaving behind a young wife with little children and going to jail for over a decade. This is the most severe punishment for whatever crime,” he says. When he finally walked out of prison one of his children was about to enrol in university.

Hanging the convicts, however grave the crime, is not punishment enough. It is escapist, Kaberia argues.

“A killed criminal does not live to suffer the consequences of their actions. The pain of the victim and their families is not taken away and the perpetrator is no more, with no pain,” he says.

Kaberia now works as an assistant legal aid officer with African Prison Project stationed in Machakos.

Edited by Josephine M. Mayuya