10 years on death row, finally walking away free

Sunday September 22 2019

Family. Pascal  Kakuru and his wife at home.

Family. Pascal Kakuru and his wife at home. Photos Phionah Nassanga 

By Phionah Nassanga

On the night of May 3, 2005, he did not know that by drinking heavily, he was cruising himself into trouble. Found guilty, on December 21, 2007, Pascal Kakuru was sentenced to death by Justice Albert Rugadya Atwooki. “I hereby sentence the accused to death.” With this ruling Kakuru felt the courtroom walls crumbling down on him.
Kakuru, 42, is the fourth born of seven siblings raised in Ntugamo District. Seeing him and his siblings through school was a struggle.
“From childhood, education was our father’s priority, but he could not afford all our school bills,” he recalls.
Pursuing Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics (PCM) at A-Level, Kakuru hoped to become an engineer. However, dropping out of school did not make this possible.

Joining police
In 1998, Kakuru was advised to apply for placement in the Uganda Police Force.
“When I dropped out of school, my late brother told me of the police recruitments in Rakai. I saw this as an opportunity for me to find a job,” he relates.
He passed the interviews, and was shortlisted among the newly recruited police officers. They would wake up at 3am to do roadwork in different villages before the day’s programme. The training taught him the basics of law and the code of conduct. Kakuru promised to work as expected.
He was posted to Kibaale District and earning about Shs80,000, which he says was enough for him to survive. In 2000, he was recruited in the Mobile Patrol Unit and was transferred to Kampala.
With his expectant wife, they settled in Naguru Police Barracks. However, as a police officer and in the Mobile Unit, he expected no permanent home for his family.
After years of service, for some unknown reason, Kakuru resorted to drinking alcohol; a habit he did not think would jeopardise his future.

Fateful night
He was transferred to Kasese Municipality Police Station and all was well for Kakuru until the night of May 3, 2005.
On that fateful day, Kakuru together with one of his colleagues visited one of the bars in the locality. However, as the night went on, the two decided to relocate elsewhere for more fun.
“After my friend and I had a couple of beers, we shifted to a nearby club. As we were making our way in, we were thrown out by one of the bouncers. He hurled insults at us, we went into a heated argument and a scuffle ensued. I fired at him,” he narrates with regret.
As gunshots were fired, patrons scampered for dear lives. The bouncer’s body lay in a pool of blood in front of Kakuru. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but it was too late. With handcuffs on, Kakuru was led to the police cell at the station he was operating from. For two days, he was locked up. On May 5, he appeared at the Chief Magistrate’s court in Lukoki, Kasese District for his case premieres.
“After the premier hearings, I was taken to Mubuku Prison Farm Detention. However, for security reasons I was referred to another prison where I served until the day of my trial,” says Kakuru.

Trial and conviction
He was given a state lawyer, but Kakuru knew this was a waste of time and this case was no win for him. His charge being murder, he knew what to expect.
“October 3, 2007 was the day for my trial. Under tight security I was led from Fort Portal prison, where I had been referred to Kasese High Court for the hearing,” he recalls.
He noted, that amid all trials, his only source of strength was his wife Annette Twinomugisha.
“She always showed up for the different court sessions and once in a while visited with children. This gave me reason to keep asking God for a second chance,” Kakuru says.
On a bright December 21, 2007, the prison van pulled over at Kasese High Court. From his seat inside the van, Kakuru could see his wife waiting at the entrance of the High Court. This was the day for the final ruling.
Presented before Justice Albert Rugadya Atwooki, his case was read out.
“I remember the silence in the courtroom as we all waited. I witnessed the judge break his red pen. Soon he gave his ruling.” “I hereby sentence you to death.”
He says the words echoed in the courtroom. Denied a chance to speak to his wife and friends that had turned up for his ruling, Kakuru was handcuffed and led back to the prison van.
From the van, Kakuru watched his wife breakdown. As the van left the court premises, slowly it started to sink in that he was on death row. With no hope of parole on December 31, Kakuru was transferred to Luzira Maximum Prison. He knew his life was over, but needed to leave something positive for his children.
“God, you have given me all this time,” he thought. “What am I going to do with it until my execution?” he questioned.

Kakuru at his graduation.
Kakuru at his graduation.

Turning point
Growing strong in spirit, Kakuru was ready to change in the remaining days of life.
While in Luzira, he decided to trade the gun for a pen.
“In my cell, I found inmates on the death row studying and teaching each other. I mustered courage from them and joined Senior Five.”
Kakuru says pursuing education was the only legacy he would leave for his children.
“I wanted my children to at least remember me for my education achievement. Not only for the crime I had committed.”
Although he was passionate about science subjects, he notes that the education system in prison did not favour the science syllabus thus opted for History, Economics, Divinity and Entrepreneurship. He sat Senior Six exams in 2009 and scored 21 points.
In the wee hours of the morning, he says he would either seek permission from his inmates to switch on the lights or he would read from the corridor and at times in the toilets.


After school
Pursuing different courses, Kakuru says putting his life straight felt achievable.
“With the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education, I was to die a happy man. When I received my results I registered for a diploma in Theology, shortly after that I also registered for a certificate in Entrepreneurship.”
Five years down the road, Kakuru’s appeal was later put in consideration. Kakuru says in 2013, while pursuing an online diploma in common Law at the University of London, he was summoned to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration of his appeal.
“Unlike before, this time different mitigation factors were put into consideration,” he recalls.
Four years later, Kakuru was resentenced to manageable terms. He says 18 years seemed a long time, but this had given him a second chance at life.
At the moment what mattered was the date on which he would leave prison.
With hopes of one day becoming a free man, Kakuru felt the need of concentrating more on his studies. In 2017, he upgraded to a Bachelor of Laws. No matter the circumstances, he read at least one book every week.
On March 21, 2018 he graduated. Unable to attend the graduation ceremony that was held at Grand Imperial Hotel, Kakuru was represented by his children and wife.

Why study law ?
“The kind of injustices I witnessed in prison lured me to pursue law. I needed to understand the law and the way it operates. I knew my offence, but many people are in prison not because they are guilty, but because they do not know much about the law and their legal rights,” he asserts.
Kakuru says pursuing Law also helped him realise the mistakes that had been made in his case during the second ruling. Applying for the second time, the sentencing was reduced by five years.
“The court of appeal agreed that my sentence to 18 years had been illegal, thus reducing it by five years.”

Set free
On August 10, 2019 Kakuru inched his way out of Luzira prison. Walking slowly, he took in every sight and sound. It was as though he was looking at the streets of Kampala with a new set of eyes as everything seemed different.
“I was overwhelmed by a deep feeling of joy. Once again I was going to reunite with my family. However, I am still seeking for forgiveness from the deceased’s family. I have tried and I am still trying, but I have not got any response from them,” he concludes.

Winston Churchill
I am moving slowly but I am not moving backwards. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts. “These two statements encouraged me to keep trying and fighting.”