Fit to Plead

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There is a section in the Kenyan law that provides for persons accused of Capital offenses to be seen by a psychiatrist to assess their fitness to plead. That law protects psychiatric patients from being tried when not in a fully functional state. Patients with debilitating mental illnesses cannot plead in a court of law. Dear readers, this is one subject that has baffled me as a doctor. The mental acuity to stand a trial.

Maundu* would be referred to us from a nearby remand for a mental assessment. We had our forensic psychiatry clinic that day, and so our clients were those who had found themselves in conflict with the law. He had been charged with second-degree murder. The details, he says, are a little hazy. Still, he remembers finding a man, deep in pleasure with his wife at their matrimonial bed. He was hurt. The man escaped by a whisker, and consequently, his wife got a lethal stab in the chest to quell his gladiatorial anger. The knife must have found the heart because Maundu says, “It was all red, I know no amount of medical prowess that could repair such a wounded heart.”

Maundu was a jua kali artisan. He made jikos and metal boxes for form one students. He tells me how he was a happy man when he came back from work on that fateful day. Then when he got home, he found the living room in a bizarre state. The room was cluttered, with clothes strewn all over. A man knows his sitting room just like Dr. Mokaya knows the labor ward. His wife did not respond to his sweet nothings, and the door was wide ajar. The man had left his open shoes at the entrance, big open shoes.

His wife was moaning in ultimate pleasure when he stormed into their bedroom, breaking Maundu’s heart into small pieces. A fight ensued, and the estranged man clutched his clothes and fled. Then anger filled Maundu’s heart, and the next thing he went for was the kitchen knife, straight from a local grinder. “It was sharp; that’s all I remember,” he says with a trembling voice and teary eyes. He was well built with fat cheeks. The tears from his eyes flowed freely in the crevices that formed on his wrinkled face when he was crying.

“With pain and anger, I took her life,” He lets a sharp, wry cry that would have me look aside to avoid his gaze. It takes a man, to know a broken man. Moments change lives. He had lost it that night, and his life was about to drastically worsen. I imagined the day of the jury’s final verdict. The heavy voice of a drunk magistrate would burrow into his heart, tearing it into pieces.

His speech is coherent, and he does not seem like someone with a psychiatric problem. He is well-kempt with appropriate behaviour, befitting a dutiful citizen in any republic, anywhere in the world.

“Do you ever see or hear people or things that other people do not see or hear? ” I asked

“No; I just don’t know what happened that day,” he says.

“Do you use any substances of abuse?”

“No, I don’t. I only drink occasionally.”

Then he tells me of the beautiful times he shared with his wife, from the courtship years a decade ago, all to the events that led to her tragic demise.

“I met my wife when I was a young man; I loved her with all that I am.”

“And then what happened?”

“Anger descended on me, why did she decide to give herself to another man? I felt betrayed. When I picked up that knife, I found myself in the police cell. That is where I put into perspective what had happened.” He says, staring at two flies mating on the bench in front of us. The male fly was too brief. Maundu had made friends with the officer who brought him, and therefore, the officer immediately granted his wishes when he requested his hands be freed so that he scratched his back. I didn’t think he would jump at me with violence, and therefore I did not move an inch. Not a flinch.

My mental assessment did not reveal any signs of mental disease. Maundu talked normally, behaved normally, felt about the situation in the way that an average person would: His judgment was reasonable, and his memory was above average. “But, what about the grief and the remorse?” I asked myself as I was concluding my assessment. “Is he really fit to stand a trial with all the heaviness in his heart?” I didn’t know about this.
“Fit to plead,” my notes read.

*not his real name. The identifying clinical details and identifying information in this story have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.


Author: Dr. Kiaye Oliver

I am a dreamer. I love medicine. She is generous. I am also in love with literature, she makes me see the world the way I want to and sometimes the way it is.

12 thoughts on “Fit to Plead”

  1. Well written ☺️.
    “…no amount of medical prowess that could repair such a wounded heart.” This, this hit me.

  2. The mental assessment should be done for the brief male fly too😂😄 what a nice write up daktari 🥂

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