A Kenyan court on Thursday released on bond televangelist Ezekiel Odero who was detained last week as investigations started into the deaths of dozens of people said to have starved themselves to death on the instructions of a cult leader Paul Mackenzie.
Pastor Odero was arrested on Thursday last week, with Kenya's Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki accusing him of involvement in the "mass killing of his followers". The minister did not elaborate on the accusation.
Mr Odero is being investigated for murder, aiding suicide, abduction, radicalisation, genocide, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud, money laundering and being an accessory to crimes.
The government wanted to detain the televangelist for 30 more days as investigations continued.
In an affidavit filed in court, the state said plans were underway for the medical procedure before a decision could be made on whether or not to charge Mr Odero.
"The investigators need to conduct DNA tests linking the bodies exhumed from Shakahola to relatives who buried their kin who died at the New Life Prayer Centre and Church in Mavueni," said investigator George Muriuki.
"Once the deaths that occurred at pastor Ezekiel's church are linked to the bodies exhumed at Shakahola, a murder charge will be preferred against him.”
It also emerged that all deaths that occurred at pastor Odero’s church were recorded.
Deaths were reported
The state said that so far, there is evidence that deaths occurred within the church's precincts which were then recorded in the police occurrence book.
"These deaths were reported to the police but at the time of reporting, there was no reason to suspect that the causes were criminal in nature," the officer said in the affidavit.
The pastor, through his lawyers, earlier admitted that 15 people have died while seeking spiritual interventions at his New Life Prayer Centre and Church in the one year and a month it has been operational.
Through his advocates Cliff Ombeta, Danstan Omari and Shadrack Wamboi, Mr Odero said the 15 sought his help while in critical conditions.
Prosecutors further told the court that they had new information on the Shakahola cult deaths.
The prosecution said post-mortems on some bodies exhumed in Shakahola revealed that some victims, mostly children, died due to strangulation. The state termed this “new information” and said it amounted to “changed circumstances”.
The police also said that so far, investigations have established that these bodies were buried in Shakahola, a site which is a subject of ongoing investigations.
While trying to convince the court to allow them more days to continue detaining pastor Odero, the state said it had obtained new information that was not in its possession when the respondent was first arraigned.
State counsel led by Peter Kiprop and Anthony Musyoka said the new information was obtained from post-mortems which showed that some of the Shakahola victims died of strangulation while others had signs of the application of force to their bodies.
"These grounds would warrant the court to extend the custodial days as there has been a substantial change of circumstances," said Mr Kiprop.
Murder, heinous crimes
The state also noted that from the autopsies conducted so far, it was evident murder and other heinous crimes were committed against the deceased persons.
Defence lawyers opposed the continued detention of their client, saying the state had no case against him.
"We are completely opposed to the state's tactics to continue holding the respondent. Let the respondent go home or a charge sheet be produced," said Mr Ombeta.