"I hereby reject the defence's case. Obviously the defence of the accused was an afterthought on realising the gravity [of the accusations against him]."

'Highly charged'

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow, reporting from the capital Nairobi, said that the case had been "highly charged and politically explosive".

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Case puts spotlight on Kenya's justice system

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"Kenyans, especially the poor, landless people, were looking closely to see if the Kenyan justice system would fairly deal with the issue," he said.

The case ignited resentment among many black Kenyans angry at the extent of white land ownership more than 40 years after the country gained its independence from Britain.

Much of the Kenya's best land was taken over by the British government during colonial times.

After independence in 1963, many departing settlers transferred the land to Africans, with Britain underwriting some of the costs, but some, including Cholmondeley's family, kept their land and became Kenyan citizens.

'Above the law'

Koigi Wa Wamwere, a political scientist in Kenya, told Al Jazeera that many Kenyans view Cholmondeley as someone who "belonged to a class of Kenyans who put themselves above the law".

"They have accumulated huge tracts of land that they hardly use, as millions of Kenyans starve and die of hunger."

Independent assessors had said in March that the evidence provided by the prosecution was inconclusive, and many observers had expected Cholmondeley to be acquitted.

"I didn't expect this. I'm just amazed that a conviction of that nature could be issued from the evidence of one witness," Fred Ojiambo, one of Cholmondeley's lawyers, told the AFP news agency.

A previous murder case against the Eton-educated aristocrat, in which he was accused of killing a wildlife ranger in April 2005, was dropped due to lack of evidence, sparking an outcry from many Kenyans.