Athea priest’s killers ‘unlikely to be executed’

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Reporter:

Gerard Fitzgibbon

THREE Kenyans who were sentenced to death for the murder of Athea missionary Fr Jeremiah Roche one year ago are unlikely to ever be hanged, the priest’s family believe.

THREE Kenyans who were sentenced to death for the murder of Athea missionary Fr Jeremiah Roche one year ago are unlikely to ever be hanged, the priest’s family believe.

The 68-year-old Kiltegan father, who had lived and worked in Kenya for 41 years, was brutally stabbed to death by intruders at his home on the outskirts of Kericho, 200km outside of the capital Nairobi on December 11 2009.

Last August a court in Nairobi sentenced Isaac Kipng’etick Bett, Jackson Cheruiyot Koskei and Joshua Maranga Makori to death after they were convicted of robbery with violence.

However Fr Roche’s family pleaded for mercy for the three men, stating that no more lives should be lost as a result of the crime.

Anne Cunningham, Fr Roche’s niece, told the Limerick Leader this week that while the three men remain on death row one year later, they are unlikely to ever be executed.

“We haven’t heard anything directly, but as far as we know it’s not going to happen. I don’t think they’ve actually carried out a death sentence in Kenya since 1987.

“We’re glad, because this is what we’ve wanted all along. Jerry wouldn’t have wanted to see any more lives lost”.

Fr Roche was a tremendously popular and beloved local figure whose brutal death sent shockwaves across the Athea and West Limerick community. He had spent 40 years working with the Kiltegan fathers overseas following his ordination in 1968. His work in Somalia and latterly Kenya was specifically related to youth development projects.

Fr Roche was a regular visitor to his native Athea, and had been renovating a small cottage in the area in advance of his planned retirement to the area just months before he was killed.

Such was his popularity that instead of being laid to rest in the country where he lived, as is typically tradition with missionary priests, Fr Roche’s remains were flown home and laid to rest at Holycross cemetery in Athea along side the graves of his father and mother.

Hundreds of people attended his funeral, including Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, and the then-Aides de Camp of the Taoiseach and President.

Fr Roche has since been commemorated by a specially made bronze bust, which was commissioned by members of the local community in Athea and unveiled in the grounds of the local church on the second anniversary of his death last December. A specially made DVD of Fr Roche’s life has also been made and is on sale in Athea.