In the summer of 2003, as the inquest began in a courthouse outside Nairobi, the priest's older brother left his home in Santa Rosa, Calif., and boarded a flight to Kenya. Francis Kaiser, 72, would be among the first to testify.
The brothers had grown up on a dirt farm in Ottertail County, Minn., wandering the woods together and sleeping in the same bed. Francis remembered his brother as a "totally fearless" boy who did not hesitate to climb a windmill or plunge into a frozen pond to retrieve ducks they'd shot.
In a way, each brother had led the life the other had imagined for himself. John was the priest Francis thought he might be. Francis had the "good wife and cabinful of kids" John once spoke of wanting.
Francis thought of his brother as the John Wayne of priests, a cowboy of the cloth who possessed a certainty of the afterlife: "He didn't have the fear of death that the normal person has."
From the witness box, Francis insisted that suicide made little sense. His brother's shotgun had two barrels, but when it was found near his body, only the left one contained a spent shell. That was the barrel activated by squeezing the rear trigger. The right barrel, with the easier-to-reach front trigger, was empty, even though the priest had a live 12-gauge shell in the breast pocket of his jacket.
He knew his brother's habits with firearms. If he had two shells, Francis reasoned, he would have loaded both barrels, so he had a chance to fire twice. And if by some chance he had time to load just one, the shell would go in the right. Why load only the left?
"This was abnormal not only for John, but for anybody using the shotgun," he told the court.
Francis had brought the last letter he received from his brother. It was dated Aug. 17, 2000, six days before his death, and did not seem to reflect suicidal despair.
"I'm sitting on a veranda watching the world turn green again," the priest had written. "We have had a rather severe drought and the grass gone brown and short and cattle hungry. Then a great blessing and two inches of rain in the past two days so the birds are singing and lots of cows were dancing in the rain."
The letter reflected an aging man soberly confronting his mortality, wondering which of his family members "will be the first to finish it up here below." He wrote, "But at least I hope we can all meet again and have a fishing trip up in the border waters of Northern Minnesota, canoe country."
Nothing embodied the case's shifting, indecipherable quality more than a gaunt, soft- spoken young Masai named Francis Kantai. He had been Kaiser's close companion, a live-in catechist who served as a cultural bridge to the nomadic cattle herders of Masailand.
To puzzle out his ultimate loyalties, however, was to enter a mare's-nest. Over and over, people told Kaiser that Kantai could not be trusted. They suspected that he was a spy for Sunkuli. Those suspicions were stoked when, according to the parish housekeeper, Kantai let Sunkuli's men into the parish house, where the priest kept his papers.
Fanning suspicions further was Kantai's admission that he had led Sunkuli's men to a safe house where two women who had accused Sunkuli of rape were hiding. Kantai insisted that the men had held him at gunpoint, and that among them was a secret police agent named Ebu who had hounded him for years over Kaiser's activities.
Why did Kaiser, who was so wary of his enemies, keep Kantai so close? Did he fear pushing a man with intimate knowledge of his habits deeper into Sunkuli's arms? There was a further complication in their relationship: One of Kaiser's cousins had fallen for Kantai during an extended visit to the parish in 2000. They were married, and Kantai was soon to travel to Nebraska to live with her. They had a baby son named after the priest.
After Kaiser's death, Kantai told investigators that Sunkuli had once urged him to poison the priest. But at the inquest, he said, "I wish to confess to court that I lied." He had been angry with Sunkuli, he explained. Believing him responsible for Kaiser's death, he made up the story.
And he offered another story, one he claimed he had forgotten in previous interviews. Not long before Kaiser's death, he said, he came upon Kaiser watching a video of a priest shooting himself. Kaiser seemed fixated by the spectacle, replaying it over and over.
Kantai did not know the video's title, and it could not be found. Gathenji believed it a fabrication.
Gathenji confronted Kantai with an informant's allegation: that he had tried to lure the priest into an ambush in the Masai Mara reserve. To the lawyer, Kantai looked like a man in anguish, about to surrender to tears.
No, Kantai said. He loved the priest. "He was like a father. I had not thought of life without him. I felt as if some part of me had left me."