NAIROBI, Kenya - A descendant of Kenya's most famous white settlers was convicted Thursday of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a black poacher, a case that has stirred simmering tensions over race and land in Kenya.
Thomas Cholmondeley, 40, wearing a blue suit and red tie, looked down when the verdict was read; some of the family friends packed into the crowded courtroom began to cry.
The 2006 shooting of 37-year-old Robert Njoya was the second time in just over a year that Cholmondeley had fatally shot a black man on the vast, largely ungated farm in the Rift Valley. The lake-studded region was once dubbed "Happy Valley" because of the decadent lifestyles of its colonial settlers.
Judge Muga Apondi reduced the charge from murder to manslaughter, saying the shooting was without malice or intent. Cholmondeley has said he fired in self-defence, aiming at a pack of dogs, and that he did not see Njoya, who friends testified had been poaching animals from the ranch.
The sentence is expected to be announced Tuesday. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life in prison. Cholmondeley has already served three years since his arrest in 2006.
"I'm dumbstruck," said defence lawyer Fred Ojiambo. If a further custodial sentence is imposed, "we'll appeal of course."
The concrete cells of the maximum security prison where Cholmondeley will return to await his sentence is a long way from his luxurious upbringing. He was educated at Eton, one of Britain's most exclusive schools, and is the great-grandson of the third Baron Delamere, one of Kenya's first major white settlers more than a century ago.
The case has received intense media scrutiny because of Cholmondeley's aristocratic heritage and his grandfather's place in Kenyan lore. The fourth Baron Delamere was married to Diana Broughton, whose lover was shot in the head on the outskirts of Nairobi in the 1940s.
Broughton's first husband, Jock Broughton, was tried for murder and acquitted, an episode that inspired the book "White Mischief," which also was made into a 1987 film starring Charles Dance and Greta Scacchi. The book highlighted the adulterous, alcoholic lives of some of Kenya's early colonialists.
Charges in the earlier case against Cholmondeley were dropped amid accusations of high-level government intervention, enraging Kenyans who say he received special treatment.
Now some of his supporters say that the government is reluctant to release him for fear of provoking a backlash. On Thursday, extra riot police were stationed outside the court and more officers used their plastic shields to press through a scrum of photographers to allow Cholmondeley inside the courtroom.
Suppressed gasps could be heard when the judge delivered his verdict, setting aside the "not guilty" recommendation made by two civilian lay assessors earlier this year. Their verdict is not legally binding but is intended to guide the judge.
Both cases exposed deep tensions about the British presence in Kenya. Many citizens are resentful that the best land was taken over by the British government during colonial times. After Kenya's independence in 1963, many departing settlers transferred land to Africans, and Britain underwrote some of the costs.
Some settlers, including Cholmondeley's family, kept their land and became Kenyan citizens. But now, an increasing number of Kenyans say the land simply does not belong to whites.
The farm, to which Cholmondeley is the only heir, is about 23,000 hectares and prone to frequent intrusions. Many residents in the area carry rifles for protection from Kenya's notoriously violent robbers and from dangerous animals.
Cholmondeley said he took his Winchester hunting rifle with him as protection against buffaloes, one of whom had recently fatally gored a wildlife artist working on his farm.
Sarah Njoya, the dead man's widow, listened to the verdict in silence and left the court without speaking to reporters. Earlier this week she said she had struggled to bring up their four children since the killing.
"I do not have a job. Life has become very hard for me," she said.