A Kenyan judge on Wednesday ordered cult leader Paul Mackenzie and dozens of others to undergo mental health tests before being charged with murder, terrorism and torture over the deaths of more than 400 people found in mass graves.
The victims included 191 children whose bodies were exhumed since last April from the remote Shakahola forest, in Kenya’s south-east.
Head of the Good News International Church, Mackenzie allegedly ordered his followers to starve themselves and their children to death so that they could go to heaven before the world ended.
He was arrested in April after the discovery of the bodies. Prosecutors say that he and 94 others will be charged in court in the coastal town of Malindi.
Several mass graves
In one of the world’s worst cult-related tragedies in recent history, more than 400 bodies were uncovered during months of exhumations across tens of thousands of acres of forest.
Prosecutors say the delicate task of locating, exhuming and autopsying so many human remains had caused delays to the trial.
Some of Mackenzie’s other followers were rescued, emaciated, from the forest.
People with knowledge of the cult’s activities told Reuters last year that Mackenzie planned the mass starvation in three phases: first children, then women and young men, and finally the remaining men.
His former followers say he forbade them from sending their children to school and from going to hospital when they were ill, branding such institutions as Satanic.
Mental health checks
A judge granted a prosecution request to conduct mental health assessments of 31 defendants before they are formally charged and enter pleas in two weeks.
A lawyer for Mackenzie, a self-proclaimed pastor and former taxi driver, said he was cooperating with the investigation.
He has denied responsibility for the deaths.