, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 17 – Acting Chief Magistrate Daniel Ochenja’s court is set to visit Westgate mall, the scene of the September 21, 2013 terror attack, next Tuesday.
When granting the prosecution’s request for the visit, Ochenja explained that he had never been to the Westgate mall and would find it beneficial for the purposes of presiding over the trial against four suspects accused of aiding in the attack to do so.
“I’ve never been to Westgate. I only saw what the media broadcast and so when we hear of explosions it would be beneficial to see where they occurred,” he said.
None of the four suspects’, Adan Abdikadir, Mohamed Abdi, Liban Omar and Hussein Mustafah’s defence counsels opposed the visit but Abdikadir’s lawyer, Mbugua Mureithi, wanted the visit to take place towards the end of the trial.
But Ochenja ruled that a visit would not prejudice his clients as it would be simply a familiarisation trip that would have been preferable to take before he began hearing witness testimony.
Prosecution lawyer Mungai Warui proposed that the head of security Paul Bunzi at Westgate conduct the tour and Ochenja agreed despite protests from Mureithi.
“He has not even stepped down from the stand,” Mureithi contested.
Ochenja however countered that Bunzi, who was prosecution’s witness number four, could be called back to the stand should Mureithi find that his client was prejudiced by the visit.
Mureithi was therefore inclined to agree to the tour of the mall and even managed to crack a joke.
“My client hasn’t been there either so it would be good for him to see it too,” he quipped.
He was however not as accommodating when complaining to Ochenja of the prosecution’s failure to furnish him and his co-defence counsel with all 28 of the remaining witness statements.
“The prosecution was meant to make all of this information available to us before the commencement of trial and we have already heard six witnesses,” he complained.
And he objected even further when Warui revealed that they were still carrying out investigations into the case against his client and the three other accused.
“We cannot rewrite the Constitution for you. You cannot ambush us in the middle of trial. We must be allowed ample time to mount a defence,” he submitted.
Ochenja then re-ordered Warui to furnish Mureithi and his team with all the witness statements by January 27 when the trial resumes.