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Kenyan aristocrat gets 8 months for killing

  • Story Highlights
  • White Kenyan aristocrat jailed for 8 months for killing suspected poacher
  • Thomas Cholmondeley fired his rifle at Robert Njoya and killed him
  • Two civilian lay assessors found him not guilty
  • Judge dismissed findings, convicted him of manslaughter
From David McKenzie
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NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- A Kenyan judge Thursday sentenced one of the country's most famous white aristocrats to eight months in prison for fatally shooting a suspected poacher on his family estate.

Thomas Cholmondeley, 40, is led into the courtroom in Nairobi, Kenya.

Thomas Cholmondeley, 40, is led into the courtroom in Nairobi, Kenya.

The case of Thomas Cholmondeley, 40, has highlighted the country's fractious relationship with its British colonial past. Cholmondeley is white and his victim was black.

Justice Muga Apondi said he did not take race, color, wealth or status into account in deciding the sentence for Cholmondeley, who was convicted of manslaughter.

"There should be no suggestion that there is one law for the rich and one law for the poor," Apondi said.

In deciding what he described as a "light sentence," Apondi noted the 1,097 days that Cholmondeley has already served behind bars.

"I do believe deeply that the process has humbled the accused person," the judge said. "This court has taken into consideration that the accused has been held in custody for slightly over three years since he was arrested."

Cholmondeley was charged with shooting Robert Njoya, a stonemason, in May 2006. Njoya was on Cholmondeley's expansive Rift valley ranch and wildlife sanctuary with two others and a pack of dogs.

Cholmondeley, suspecting Njoya of poaching, fired his rifle and killed him.

"The accused did not have any malice aforethought in killing the deceased," Apondi said. "Put in simple language, the killing was not premeditated, as the accused never had any grudge whatsoever against the deceased."

He added that the defendant tried to render first aid to Njoya after the shooting, rushed him to the hospital and used his credit card to pay for treatment.

The defense had told the judge that if he showed leniency, Cholmondeley's family would meet the financial needs of Njoya's widow, but the judge did not comment on that when reading out the sentence.

The judge said he considered Cholmondeley a first offender and took that into consideration in sentencing.

But fueling public anger was another incident in which Cholmondeley was accused of shooting a game ranger who was out of uniform. That case was dropped because of a lack of evidence.

Cholmondeley comes from a prominent British family that includes the third Baron Delamare, who came to Kenya at the turn of the 20th century and became one of the country's most prominent white settlers.

The Eton-educated Cholmondeley has transformed his Soysambu Ranch into a wildlife sanctuary and tourist attraction. He also has started a number of notable businesses in the region.

Most of Kenya's white settlers left after the country's independence in 1963.

Many of those who stayed took Kenyan citizenship. Though they represent a tiny fraction of the landowners in Kenya, some Kenyans resent their ownership of property.

CNN's David McKenzie contributed to this report.

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