Wife of Kenyan carjack victim in Iowa lashes out at suspects

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Felony robbery charges are not severe enough for three 15- and 16-year-old boys who pulled a northwest Des Moines man from his car at gunpoint, beat him over the head and took the car, the victim’s wife said Tuesday.

“I think the police have done a good job finding and arresting these people, but my husband is dying in thehospital,” said Joan Namachemo. “I need attempted murder for this.”

Mike Wasike, 36, an immigrant from Kenya who with Namachemo has two children, sustained possibly permanent brain injuries in the attack.

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Kenneth Barry, 16; Terrance Cheeks, 15; and Leshaun Murray, 15, all of Des Moines, are each charged with two counts of first-degree robbery. Police said that’s the most serious crime they could prove.

The teenagers tried three times Feb. 26 to take cars from drivers, prosecutors said. The other targets drove away.

The drivers who escaped didn’t report the incidents immediately but contacted police later when they heard about Wasike. Their descriptions helped police find and identify the teenagers, Des Moines police spokesman Sgt. Jason Halifax said.

A break in the case came when someone overheard the suspects talking about the carjacking, Halifax said. Police were able to verify the hearsay through interviewswith the suspects, he said.

It appears the suspects were just looking for a car to drive and ditch a few days later, Halifax said. Wasike’s car was found abandoned at an apartment complex in the 5200 block of Southwest Ninth Street. Nothing of value was taken from the car and Wasike’s credit card was in his pocket when he was found unconscious in the snow a few blocks from his home in the Meredith neighborhood.

Wasike suffered a broken skull and remains unresponsive in the hospital. He has emerged from a medically induced coma, but it is unclear if he will ever walk or talk again, Namachemo said.
Barry will be tried in adult court like other juveniles at least 16 years old who are charged with a forcible felony.

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said he has not decided whether to seek to try Cheeks and Murray in adult court.

Authorities considered attempted murder charges but concluded that first-degree robbery was most appropriate because they could not prove the suspects intended to inflict life-threatening injuries, said Halifax said. “It may have been hard to prove that they intentionally beat him until he was unconscious,” he said.

Robbery is defined as a theft involving an assault. For adults, the maximum allowed imprisonment for a single first-degree-robbery conviction is 25 years. Punishments for juveniles found responsible for crimes follow more flexible rules.

Sarcone said he could not comment on the details of the case or discuss why robbery charges were selected.

If the teens are tried as adults and convicted of first-degree robbery, each would spend over 17 years in prison under an Iowa law that requires those convicted of certain violent crimes to serve at least 70 percent of their sentence.

Each of the teenagers was charged with a second count of robbery because of the other attempts to rob drivers the same night as Wasike, police said. The others were able to drive away unharmed.

It’s unclear why Wasike stopped. Police have not been able to interview him.

“Maybe Mr. Wasike was just trying to help out,” Halifax said. “Maybe he was being a benevolent guy. We just don’t know.”

As of Tuesday, police had not recovered the gun used in the carjacking. It’s still unknown whether another object was used in the beating of Wasike, Halifax said.

Police have described Wasike’s assault as a rare random act of violence.

“Mr. Wasike was a completely innocent bystander that was quite simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Halifax said in a news release.

Barry, Cheeks and Murray were arrested more than a week ago for unspecified violations of juvenile probation, Halifax said. The spokesman said he did not know the teens’ original charges.

Because the suspects were already in custody and not flight risks, “we took a little more time to get all our ducks in a row to file charges,” Halifax said.

Local agencies do not keep separate statistics on carjackings but said they are rare throughout the Des Moines area. While the Meredith neighborhood has pockets of police activity, mostly at large apartment complexes, it is a relatively quiet area, police said.

Since the beginning of the year, 31 crimes have been reported within a mile of this incident, including 11 assaults and one robbery.

Investigators in Des Moines have seen juveniles commit robberies in the past, but the severity of violence in this attack was unusual from young suspects. “It’s not typical. This is bordering on murder. If he had died, it would have been murder charges,” Halifax said.

In 2010, police charged three 16-year-olds and a 14-year-old with attempted murder, robbery and willful injury after beating a man so badly during an apparent robbery they left him for dead in a Des Moines parking lot.

Less than a year later, police contended with two high-profile incidents — an assault on a couple and a home invasion and robbery — that resulted in juveniles being charged.

Police said they are confident they’ve arrested everyone responsible for the carjacking.

Wasike moved to Des Moines from Nairobi, Kenya, four years ago, following his wife who had won a visa lottery to live in the United States several years earlier. He had been working two jobs to support his family and send money back home.

Namachemo said she was surprised to hear that her husband’s attackers were only juveniles.

“In a society where young kids can do things like this, especially to people they don’t know, it is very sad,” she said.

Source:Des Moines Register

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