Man who killed wife, 2 children sentenced to life and more

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2011 - 11:35 PM

A native of Kenya was sentenced to 76 1/2 years for murdering his wife and two of their children in their Vadnais Heights apartment.

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Kinley Ogendi, 12, and Ivyn Ogendi, 9

Justus Kebabe showed no emotion and had nothing to say as he was sentenced Friday in Ramsey County District Court to 76 1/2 years in prison for murdering his wife and two of their three children.

He will be at least 94 before he is eligible for release.

The bodies of Bilha Omare, 32; Kinley Ogendi, 12, and Ivyn Ogendi, 9, were found early Oct. 14 in their Vadnais Heights apartment. Kebabe, 43, was arrested after he tried to flee and his car ran out of gas on Interstate 35 near Elko, Minn. Savannah, the couple's surviving daughter, who is now 4, was in the car, unharmed.

Many people in the eighth-floor courtroom were in tears Friday as one by one -- Omare's cousin, uncle and brother told of their family's grief.

Bilha Omare's uncle, Peter Masongo, said his "family was shattered" when members learned that Kebabe had killed his wife and the two children.

"There are those who will try to find reasons why this man should walk among civilized people," he said. "Given what he has put our family through, what he has put the community through, he does not deserve to walk freely among mortals."

Her brother, Danvas Omare, said he and other family members had planned to travel to Minnesota in December when his sister graduated from nursing school. Instead, they came for funerals.

"Bilha never got to live the American dream," Omare said through his tears. "The man who pretended to love her wouldn't let her."

Omare said Savannah is in the custody of Ramsey County. His family has asked for custody of the girl, he said.

Prosecutor Eric Leonard asked District Judge Elena Ostby to impose consecutive sentences for Kebabe.

"This crime did not occur in a vacuum," Leonard said. "The defendant's assaultive behavior toward Bilha had been going on for a while. This case involved some planning, some premeditating, some attempts on his part to cover up the crimes."

Defense attorney Bruce Wenger, however, asked for concurrent sentences, meaning Kebabe could have been free in a little more than 20 years. He pointed out that Kebabe pleaded guilty 16 days after the crimes and "didn't try to minimize anything."

"My client deserves some consideration for the way he handled that aspect," he said.

The judge wasn't having any of that. She said she had looked up the law in Kebabe's and Omare's native Kenya. There, "we wouldn't be talking consecutive or concurrent sentences. What we would be addressing here is whether Mr. Kebabe would be put to death."

Ostby said to impose concurrent sentences would be to "unfairly dismiss the lives of the two youngest victims," giving Kebabe three consecutive 25 1/2-year sentences.

Kebabe pleaded guilty Oct. 29 to three counts of second-degree intentional murder. He admitted that he hit his wife with a golf club, then strangled her with electrical wire. He said he gave two of the children cranberry juice laced with Tylenol PM pills before killing Kinley by holding his head under water in the bathtub and strangling and suffocating Ivyn in her bed.

There has been no explanation of why those children were killed and Savannah was not.

The killings came just a few months after Kebabe was discharged from probation following a December 2008 incident of domestic violence. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct and was on probation for a year.

In a police report, Omare told a sheriff's deputy that Kebabe had abused her repeatedly and had knocked her unconscious when they lived in Kenya.

Evans Ogora, Bilha's cousin, said he told his 8-year-old daughter Monday that he was coming to Minnesota, and as he drove her to school she told him, "Daddy, I don't want you to go to Minnesota."

That's because the last time the family was here -- in August -- Ogora's children spent the night in the same beds where Kinley's and Ivyn's bodies were found.

"I ask you to give me a good reason, how I explain to her about what happened," Ogora told the judge.

In her closing remarks, Ostby responded:

"In conclusion, Mr. Ogora, you can tell your daughter you came to Minnesota to find justice. J-U-S-T-I-C-E."

Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992

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