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Judge in Kenya Re-Opens Case of Deceased American Priest

In an unusual move, a judge in Kenya has reopened a case that Kenyan authorities and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded was likely a suicide seven years ago. The case involves an American priest who died under mysterious circumstances. As Caroline Sawyer reports from Nairobi, two men with links to a former Kenyan member of parliament have now been named as suspects in the priest's murder.

American-born priest John Kaiser had been working in Kenya for 35 years when he was found dead on the side of a road outside the capital, Nairobi, in August 2000. Police said he had died of a bullet wound in the head.

In a subsequent report, Kenyan police and the FBI reported that Kaiser suffered from depression and had probably shot himself. They cautioned that their analysis should not be considered conclusive.

FBI Spokesperson Stephen Kodak tells VOA that the federal bureau was asked by Kenyan authorities to assist in the initial investigation of Father Kaiser's death, but that they had to work within the constraints of the country's police system.

Kodak says the FBI was not involved in a subsequent inquiry to confirm a conclusion of suicide, which took four years to complete. "It is unfortunate that our investigative and forensic experts were not afforded the opportunity to testify in support of that investigation in the recent court proceedings."

In Kenya, a judge must conduct an independent inquiry before suicide can be confirmed as a cause of death.

In early August, Judge Maureen Odera , after sifting through the initial investigation, decided to re-open the case, and she ruled that Father Kaiser had been murdered.

Kenyan lawyer, Mbuthi Gathenji, represents the priest's family and the Mill Hill Missionaries where Kaiser worked. He says Odera's ruling was worth the wait. "It is a remarkable decision in that suicide was removed. She identified suspects who should be investigated further. She also indicated the weaknesses in the evidence of the police, so she has shown the way forward," he said.

In re-opening the case, Judge Odera named the brother-in-law of a former member of parliament and his close friend, a game ranger, as suspects in the murder. The men have not been charged and apparently do not have lawyers at this time. The police will now open a new investigation into the case.

The judge did not link Julius Sunkuri, the former MP , to the priest's death. But she did say there were serious omissions in the initial police investigation.

The lawyer for the priest's family, Mbuthi Gathenji, says that on the day that Kaiser died, a young girl who was being helped by the priest to bring charges of rape against Sunkuri, suddenly withdrew her accusations. Sunkuri represented Kilgoris district, home to the Masaai Mara, one of the most famous wildlife reserves in the world.

Gathenji says no one should be exonerated until all the evidence is in and a proper trial is held. "When an investigation is ordered, I would personally feel that all inclusive should be investigated. Further evidence may reveal more information (than was) made available in the inquest," he said.

The former MP, Julius Sunkuri, has stated an interest in running for a seat in local government when the country holds general elections later this year.