(Update: Thomas Cholmondeley was sentenced to a further eight months in prison on Thursday. Masai tribesmen protested outside the Nairobi High Court, saying the light sentence is evidence of a double standard.)
Despite many Kenyans’ expectations, a murder trial has ended in a guilty verdict for the heir of one of the country’s most notable families of British settlers, once dubbed the “Kennedys of Kenya.”
Thomas Cholmondeley was convicted of manslaughter earlier this month in the shooting death of Robert Njoya, a black stonemason he discovered poaching in May 2006 on his family’s 200-sq.-km estate in the Rift Valley. Cholmondeley’s lengthy trial stirred old resentments over race and land ownership, especially since Kenyans had good cause to believe the 40-year-old would walk away from the charge of murder—he had once before.
That was in 2005, when Cholmondeley admitted to killing a Masai game warden on his property, but argued he had fired in self-defence. He was freed, sparking angry protests in nearby Nakuru (about 150 km northwest of Nairobi). Many hope his recent conviction signals a change toward equal treatment for all in Kenyan courts.
Cholmondeley’s supporters, however, claim he has been made an example of. His lawyer argued that, though he had taken shots at the poacher’s dogs, it was one of Cholmondeley’s companions who fired the fatal shot. The court also heard how Cholmondeley applied a tourniquet to stem the bleeding and had his car rush the dying man to hospital. In the end the judge ruled that, while the shooting was without malice or intent, Cholmondeley had indeed killed the man.
Sentencing for the father of two is scheduled for this week, and will range from life in prison to immediate release—he’s already served three years as the only white prisoner in the Kamiti maximum security jail. A website created by Cholmondeley’s friends and family notes: “Could Tom have bought his way out of prison? Probably. Did he? No.”
This isn’t the first time the Cholmondeley family has been caught up in a murder trial: a lover of Lady Diana Broughton, who later married Thomas’s grandfather, was murdered in 1941. The subsequent trial was spun into a 1988 movie called White Mischief that highlighted the life of excess enjoyed by white settlers in Kenya’s “Happy Valley.”