White Kenyan aristocrat must present murder defence

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NAIROBI, July 25 (Reuters) A Kenyan court ruled today that Thomas Cholmondeley, descendant of one of the country's most famous white settlers, should present his defence in a murder case that has stoked longstanding racial tensions.

The great-grandson of Lord Delamere has admitted shooting Kenyan stonemason Robert Njoya, whom he accused of poaching on his 55,000 acre Soysambu farm in May 2006.

Cholmondeley, who is the son of the 5th Lord Delamere, denied murdering Njoya, saying he was acting in self-defence.

Kenya's judicial system allows a court to terminate a trial before a defendant presents his case, if the judge deems that prosecutors do not have enough evidence to make their case against the accused person.

''After carefully considering the evidence adduced by 38 witnesses, the prosecution has established a prima facie case for the accused to be put on his defence,'' Justice Muga Apondi told a packed Nairobi courtroom.

Defence lawyer Fred Ojiambo told the court he would present seven witnesses including a police officer from the national firearms bureau.

The trial is the second murder case against the aristocrat, who was also accused of killing a wildlife ranger in April 2005. That case was dropped for lack of evidence, to major public outcry and suggestions from many Kenyans that there were still two sets of laws -- one for whites and one for blacks.

The cases have fanned simmering colonial-era resentment against white settlers that carved out large swathes of land for themselves during Britain's colonial rule in Kenya.

In the Njoya case for which he is now on trial, Cholmondeley told police he and a friend were walking on his ranch when he saw five men with machetes, bows and arrows and a dead impala.

Cholmondeley told police he shot at Njoya and a dog after he asked the men to stop but they set their dogs on him instead. The men however say he fired as they fled from him.

Cholmondeley's family is one of Kenya's largest landowners and has lived in the country for close to a century.

The original Lord Delamere's gin-soaked antics were famous and his name was given to a bar at the Norfolk Hotel that was one of his favourite haunts and remains a must-stop for European visitors to the Kenyan capital.

Although many Kenyans complain about white farmers, many others are are also resentful of wealthy black Kenyans who allocated themselves massive tracts of land after independence from Britain in 1963.

The flamboyant lifestyle of the Delameres and other wealthy white settler families of the ''Happy Valley'' set inspired the book and film ''White Mischief.'' Reuters SBC GC1850

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