Thomas Patrick Gilbert Cholmondeley, the scion of one of Kenya’s richest and most fabled white families, was convicted of manslaughter on Thursday for shooting to death a black Kenyan poacher who had trespassed on his land.
Many Kenyans had been watching this case closely, seeing it as a test of the fairness of their judicial system. This was the second time Mr. Cholmondeley (pronounced CHUM-lee) had killed a black Kenyan, and he even signed a confession saying he had fired the fatal bullet.
But because his family remains one of the largest landholders in the country, and because he had been quickly cleared of any wrongdoing in the first killing, and because he is white, many Kenyans were cynical about whether this son of privilege would ever be punished.
On Thursday, Judge Muga Apondi put those concerns to rest. He said that Mr. Cholmondeley had killed the poacher, but the judge believed that the killing had been done without malice aforethought, and that therefore the appropriate conviction was manslaughter, not murder, the original charge.
The judge scheduled sentencing for next week, and Mr. Cholmondeley, 40, faces life in prison. Mr. Cholmondeley has already spent nearly three years behind bars, awaiting trial, in one of Kenya’s more notorious prisons. Kenyan lawyers have said he is likely to spend a few more years there and then be released.
Mr. Cholmondeley’s great-grandfather was Hugh Cholmondeley, the third Baron Delamere, who went to Kenya in the early 1900s on a lion-hunting trip, fell in love with the country and made it fashionable for rich Britons to move to Africa. The Cholmondeleys ended up owning a huge chunk of the Rift Valley, despite protests from local tribes.
It was on this same piece of Delamere land, which at one time was more than 50,000 acres, that Mr. Cholmondeley killed Robert Njoya, a wildlife poacher, on May 10, 2006. Mr. Cholmondeley said that Mr. Njoya’s dogs had threatened him and that he had shot at the dogs, accidentally hitting Mr. Njoya.
During the trial, Mr. Cholmondeley tried to retract that confession and place blame for the shooting on a friend who was with him at the time. But the judge rejected the defendant’s revised version of what had happened, saying on Thursday, according to the BBC, “I find as a fact that it was the accused who had shot the deceased, resulting in his death.”
In 2005, Mr. Cholmondeley shot and killed an undercover Kenyan wildlife officer who was investigating game poaching on his farm. Mr. Cholmondeley told investigators he thought the officer was a robber, and the case was dropped before ever going to trial.