By Sophie Njoka and Brian Okoth.
A significant number of Kenyans on social media have commended a Mombasa magistrate for “applying wisdom” in determining a case in which a 19-year-old woman pleaded guilty to stealing weaves from a supermarket at Mtwapa in Kilifi County.
On Tuesday, July 23, Shanzu Senior Resident Magistrate Patrick Odhiambo surprised court attendees when he held an impromptu fundraiser to help the suspect charged with theft raise compensation for two hair weaves she had stolen from the Mtwapa store.
Magistrate Odhiambo asked those present in the courtroom to voluntarily contribute at least Ksh100 which will go toward recompensing the supermarket.
The magistrate’s request came after the suspect, Karyn Chelagat, pleaded guilty to shoplifting charge, saying she envied her friends who sported good-looking weaves, but, due to her financial woes, she was unable to raise the Ksh1, 140 collective tag put on the synthetic hair.
Chelagat stole the weaves from the Mtwapa supermarket on Sunday, July 21.
“I wanted to look beautiful like other women. So, I went to the supermarket, looked around and saw the weaves that my friends often wear. Upon looking at the price tag, I was heartbroken that I couldn’t afford the two pieces. Left with no other choice, I stole the products,” Chelagat told the court amid tears.
The suspect, in her mitigation, further told the magistrate that poverty “made it hard for her to properly groom herself”.
“I was raised in poverty. When I came to town, I would see women sporting good hair and wearing quality make-up. I have tried to look as beautiful as my friends, but lack of money makes that impossible,” said Chelagat.
It was at that point that the magistrate asked lawyers present in court and other Kenyans to contribute at least Ksh100 each to help Chelagat raise Ksh1, 140 which she owed her accuser.
One of the lawyers, William Bosire, gave out Ksh2, 000 to rescue the woman from serving a 2-year jail term for the offence.
Alternatively, the teenager would have had to part with a fine of Ksh50, 000 to secure her freedom.
Senior Resident Magistrate Odhiambo set Chelagat free and, thereafter, asked the investigating officer to return the stolen weaves to the Mtwapa supermarket, and Bosire’s money be given to the accused “to buy a weave and food to eat”.
The story received hundreds of reactions on Facebook and Twitter after K24 Digital shared it on its social media platforms, with an overwhelming bulk of the respondents praising the magistrate for “being humane”.
Kongowea Mswahili said on Facebook: “So, such kind-hearted people exist in Kenya? Maajabu.”
Patrick Maina Kamanga said: "We, after all, do have humane people in [the] Judiciary. May God bless the magistrate, and may many more in our justice system follow this example."
Anthonio Rodriguez: "May the Almighty God bless the magistrate for the Solomonic wisdom [he has] applied in Chelagat’s case."
Jim Nick Muigai said: "This is so humane. The magistrate exercised wisdom in this. The lady should now focus her life positively."
Martin Francis observed: "We cannot just be relying on books for judgement. Just make the best judgement, not the right judgement and that makes you the judge."
Reuben Karanja said: "This is what I call wisdom, and it goes a long way in correcting [someone] rather than punishing [the offender]."
Mishieni Misheni marvelled: "I didn't expect it... Good people still exist. That was a nice gesture towards that lady!"
Gikang'a Kamau said: "Approaching an issue pragmatically. I think Jesus Christ would have solved this matter just like this magistrate. Humanity is valuable."
Vg Wambui said: "[An] act of a father... I don't know why we always forget to celebrate our men often."
Festus Mutisya said: "Going beyond [the] call of duty. This is humanity. I hope that this love is extended to everyone who really deserves it. There are millions of innocent Kenyans rotting in jail when they should be actively involved in economic growth. Some of the petty offenders should be released on conditions that they serve the society in some capacity. Correctional facilities are good, but the system being used lacks the humane factor. The future will be defined by people of this magistrate's caliber. Cheers Magistrate."
Ian Mwangi said on Twitter: "It is wonderful that the magistrate understands the nature of life, and helps this young woman."
Another Twitter user, Karuru, said: "Just a moment. That now is a public court. Is the good magistrate not rolling out his bleeding heart? Criminal justice is about punishment. She did not steal food. She did not steal one piece."
However, not everyone on social media was impressed by Magistrate Odhiambo’s ruling.
Khamati Khamati said: "This is very wrong. This is the same hustler mentality where one person steals then the blame is put on their poor background, and the responsibility of paying for their sins is put on us [law-abiding citizens]. Hii ni makosa."
Orrorin Samuels said: "That is illegal. The judge just committed an offence while on official duty."