On Thursday, a court in Kenya said that one of the two pastors being investigated for the deaths of more than 100 church members, many of whom are thought to have died of starvation, could be freed on bond or bail.
Pastor Ezekiel Odero was arrested last week in connection with the deaths of dozens of people who went to his coastal megachurch, which draws thousands of people from all over the country. Police closed the church, but lawyers have asked to have it reopened. This will be heard on Monday.
Odero’s parishioners gathered outside the court on Thursday to pray for his release, which was allowed as long as he posted a bond of 3 million Kenyan shillings (about $22,000) or cash bail of 1.5 million shillings (about $11,000). The court said that there was not enough evidence to keep the priest in jail.
After Odero was arrested, his lawyers admitted that 15 people had died at his church, but they said that the deaths had been reported to the police as the law requires. Police have said that at the time, there was no proof that a crime had been done.
Police are Searching
Odero is also being looked into because he knows Paul Mackenzie, who is the leader of another church in Kilifi county. Mackenzie was arrested after parishioners who were very thin were found on his land and his followers said he told them to fast until they died before the end of the world so they could meet Jesus.
Police have been looking through his 800-acre (324-hectare) farm in a remote wooded area where more than 100 bodies were found in dozens of mass graves.
Autopsies were still being done on the bodies, but the ones that had already been done showed that some of the people buried had died from starvation, strangulation, or smothering.
This week, a lower court let Mackenzie go free, but he was picked up again and taken to a higher court. Prosecutors asked for more time to look into possible charges linked to terrorism. Police have said that there are signs of terrorism based on their investigations.
Mackenzie is due in court on Friday. At that time, a request to keep him in jail for another 30 days will be heard.
Mackenzie sold Odero a TV station in the year 2019 when he closed his church and moved with some of his church members to his property in a forest.
Kenya’s national communications authority shut down Odero’s TV channel because it showed inappropriate material about exorcism when it shouldn’t have.
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