A Kenyan court has ordered cult leader Paul Mackenzie and 30 associates to undergo mental health evaluations before being charged with the murder of 191 children. The court said Mackenzie, head of the Good News International Church, ordered his followers to starve themselves and their children to death so they could meet Jesus before the world ends.
Mackenzie was arrested in April last year after bodies were discovered in a forest near the Indian Ocean coast. His pre-trial detention has been extended on several occasions as investigations draw out.
According to the New York Times, Mackenzie had marketed Shakahola Forest of southeastern Kenya to his followers as an evangelical Christian sanctuary from what he claimed was the fast-approaching apocalypse. More than 400 bodies were exhumed from the forest.
However, Mackenzie denied the allegations. The judge, Mugure Thande, gave prosecutors until Feb. 6 to ensure he and his co-defendants are fit to stand trial.
Mackenzie and his co-accused will face 10 charges including murder, manslaughter and terrorism, AFP reported.
They will also be charged with “subjecting a child to torture”, the prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, autopsies have revealed the majority of the victims died of hunger. But others, including children, appear to have been strangled, beaten or suffocated.
429 bodies were located.
A Senate commission of inquiry reported in October that Mackenzie had faced charges back in 2017 for his extreme preaching. “(But) the criminal justice system failed to deter the heinous activities of Paul Mackenzie in Shakahola,” it said.
He was acquitted of charges of radicalisation in 2017 for illegally providing school teaching. He rejected the formal educational system that he claimed was not in line with the Bible.
In 2019, he was also accused of links to the death of two children believed to have been starved, suffocated and then buried in a shallow grave in Shakahola forest. He was released on bail pending trial.
Kenya has a history of self-declared pastors and movements.