Willie Kimani was representing a client who had been assaulted by a police officer
A Kenyan court has sentenced to death a former policeman for the murder of a human rights lawyer and two others in a case which triggered national outrage.
Two other policemen and a civilian were also sentenced to between 20 and 30 years for the murder of lawyer Willie Kimani, his client and a taxi driver in June 2016.
The four were found guilty of three counts, including murder, in July 2022.
Death sentences for murder in Kenya are commuted to life in prison.
However, the 2017 Supreme Court ruling gave judges discretion to decide if a death sentence can still be imposed.
An army officer behind an attempted coup in 1982 was the last person to be executed in Kenya.
The murder of Kimani highlighted the many extrajudicial killings and disappearances that have been blamed on the Kenyan police.
Former police officer Fredrick Leliman, who was sentenced to death, and the other three convicts, can appeal against their conviction and sentencing within 14 days.
In her judgement on Friday, Judge Jessie Lessit, said evidence produced during the trial had shown that the murders were premeditated and the victims brutally tortured and killed.
“No-one should experience what these three went through, especially from the same people mandated to protect them,” said Benson Shamala, the country director of International Justice Mission, where Kimani worked.
“Sadly, since the deaths of our three friends, we have continued to witness more killings by police,” he added.
Kimani’s wife, Hannah, welcomed the court ruling.
“We are happy and Kimani can finally rest in peace. Along the way, we had lost hope that we would get justice,” she said, holding back tears, reports the AFP news agency.
The bodies of Kimani, Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri were found dumped in a river on the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi.
Kimani was defending motorbike taxi driver Mwenda who had accused policeman Fredrick Leliman of shooting him for no reason at a traffic stop in 2015.
Kimani, Mwenda and their taxi driver Muiruri were last seen on 23 June 2016 at a police station.
Their mutilated bodies were recovered two weeks later in a river almost 100km (62 miles) from the city.
Kenya’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority has recorded more than 6,000 complaints, according to data the agency has gathered since its creation 11 years ago, but few officers have been prosecuted.
The four convicts including Fredrick Leliman (far right) who was sentenced to deathImage source, IJM
The four convicts, including Fredrick Leliman (far right) who was sentenced to death
Last year, President William Ruto disbanded a crime-fighting police unit which had been accused of carrying out extra-judicial killings.
However, human rights groups have been calling for an inquiry to look into the unit’s operations and for those found culpable to be prosecuted.