Kenyan men sentenced to death for murder of Irish priest

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

A court in Kericho in Kenya has sentenced three people to death for the 2009 murder of Irish Kiltegan Father Jeremiah Roche.

The three men, Isaac Kipng'etich Bett, Jackson Cheruiyot Koskei and Joshua Maranga Makori, were convicted of robbery with violence against the priest, who was killed in his parish in Keongo on December 11 2009.  The killing took place close to Kericho, the centre of the country's tea industry that had seen serious post-election violence between rival tribal groups.  The town is 305 kilometres west of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

During their investigation, police discovered that a laptop computer, two mobile phones and other electronic devices valued at more than $3,000 were stolen during the crime.  Chief Magistrate Hedwig Ong'undi sentenced two other men to 14 years in prison with hard labour for possession of stolen property and acquitted four other suspects who were facing similar charges. 

Ong'undi said that, two weeks after the priest was found dead, police found pants with Father Roche's blood hidden under Makori's mattress.

Father Roche who was 68 at the time of his death and a member of the Saint Patrick's Missionary Society, had ministered in Kenya for 41 years.  He was involved in numerous projects there including the construction of churches and schools in the Kericho Diocese. 

He was ordained in 1968 and had been a regular visitor to Ireland.  During his visits home he had worked in several Irish parishes including Castleisland in County Kerry, Bruff in County Limerick and Grenagh in county Cork, and was always fundraising for schools and churches in Kenya.

The popular priest had served as Keongo parish priest in the Chebang'ang' parish in Konoin district in the two years prior to his death where he was the only Catholic priest.  He was the youngest of eleven siblings and had planned to retire to his home parish in Athea, County Limerick in 2010.

by Sean Ryan