Kampala. Businessman Muhammed Ssebuwufu, the proprietor of Pine Car Bond and six others were yesterday found guilty of torturing businesswoman Betty Donah Katusabe to death for failing to clear an outstanding debt of Shs9m.
The other convicts are Godfrey Kayiza, Philip Mirambe, Paul Tasingika, Yoweri Kitayimba, Damaseni Ssentongo and Shaban Odutu.
They were also found guilty of murder, aggravated robbery and kidnap with intent to murder.
However, court found that the eighth person Stephen Lwanga did not kill but convicted him for being an accessory to the murder, a lesser offence.
Delivering her judgment, Justice Flavia Senoga Anglin said she had carefully evaluated both the prosecution and the defence evidence and found that the accused had been squarely placed at the scene of crime at Pine Car Bond on Lumumba Avenue in Nakasero on the fateful day.
Prosecution evidence states that Ssebuwufu and the six co-accused beat and tortured Katusabe with sticks and pangas (machetes) to death and also robbed her of her belongings after kidnapping her from her home on that fateful day.
Murder and aggravated robbery attract up to a death sentence as the maximum punishment although court has the discretion to give them a lesser penalty.
“There is no credible evidence that A1, A2, A3, A5, A6 and A8 disassociated themselves from the kidnap, attainment of attack on the deceased (Katusabe) that resulted in the injuries that caused her death. The available evidence placed the accused persons at the scene of crime and their defences are also hereby disproved and are rejected,” Justice Senoga ruled.
“I am in disagreement with the opinion of the assessors. I find the accused guilty on all the three counts of the offences. For the reasons given in this judgment, I find that prosecution proved the ingredient of participation of the accused in the commission of the offences beyond reasonable doubt,” she added.
On April 29, the lay assessors in the case had given their opinion advising the judge to acquit the accused on all counts for lack of sufficient evidence linking them to the murder.
Evidence adduced during the trial showed that Lwanga merely drove the late Katusabe from Pine Car Bond to Kampala Central Police Station (CPS) and back to the car depot but did participate in the killing.
“As regards A4 (Lwanga), the evidence available indicates that the role he played was to drive the deceased to CPS and back to Pine Car Bond which also contributed to her demise. He is found guilty of being an accessory after the fact under Section 206 of the Penal Code Act,” Justice Senoga ruled.
An accessory after the fact is when a person who assists another in commission of a crime but does not directly participate in it.
The judge, in her analysis, observed that under Section 20 0f the Penal Code Act, when two or more persons form a common intention to execute an unlawful purpose, each of them is deemed to have committed that offence.
The judge observed that the deceased was kidnapped from her home and tricked into believing that they were delivering her to settle her debt amicably with Ssebuwufu but was instead beaten to death.
How judge reached the verdict
“She was kidnapped, she did not leave her home on her own free will and she was deceived into believing that the matter would be settled and hence she went with them. There is sufficient evidence adduced by prosecution to show that there was a common intention between the accused to kidnap the deceased and thereafter assaulted and injured her in a way that resulted into her death and in the process robbed her of her phone,” Justice Senoga stated.
She added: “The accused were placed at the scene of crime and that the alibis [whereabouts] of A1 (Ssebuwufu) and A8 (Odutu) were disproved. The deceased did not die of natural causes as the defence wanted court to believe. All the injuries, bruises and abrasions on her body set out in the post-mortem report were inflicted on her while at Pine Car Bond.”
The judge further observed that Ssebuwufu and his accomplices had an option of filing a civil suit against Katusabe to recover the outstanding debt instead of murdering her.
After court declared Ssebuwufu and his co-accused guilty of the murder, some of Katusabe’s relatives and friends who had thronged to the courtroom dressed in black T-shirts bearing her portrait, paid tribute to God for delivering justice to the deceased.
“Thank you God,” one of the relatives yelled.
Inscribed on the black T-shirts were words: “No one will spill your blood and get away with it.”
The murder case file initially had former police commander of Kampala Central Police Station, Mr Aaron Baguma but the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), along the way dropped the charges against him.
Mr Baguma had been held criminally liable for failing to protect human life as per his obligation as a police officer when he looked the other away after Katusabe pleaded with him to rescue her from her tormentors.
Evidence that brought killers down
During the trial that started in May 2018, the first prosecution witness, Mr Peter Tumusiime, a legal assistant with Tumwebaza, Atugonza & Kobusingye Co. Advocates, said he saw Ssebuwufu kick Katusabe in her private parts and breasts on the fateful day when he went to the car bond after receiving a distress phone call from her.
In his testimony, he said while he was at the law firm, one of his bosses, Ms Annet Kobusingye, asked him to rush to Pine Car Bond to find out what was happening to one of her clients-- Katusabe.
“When I reached Pine Car Bond, I found a gathering and I asked for Mr Ssebuwufu. I found him standing with another gentleman. I introduced myself to him and why I was at his premises,” the 28-year-old witness told court in May last year.
“I told him that I wanted Betty and Ssebuwufu led me to the room where she was locked. In the room, she was being surrounded by six well-built men (bouncers). I had a chat with Betty and in the process, Ssebuwufu jumped up and kicked Betty in her private parts and breasts. He went ahead to instruct the six bouncers to also kick her,” Mr Tumusiime added.
When asked to explain the condition that he found Katusabe in, the witness told court that he found her seated on the floor, her clothes torn, had bruises on her face and generally looked weak as a result of torture she was going through.
Mr Tumusiime further testified that as the beating continued, he got afraid and started comforting Katusabe.
“I asked Mr Ssebuwufu to stop torturing Betty since I was going to mobilise his outstanding balance of Shs9m and give it to him. As I was leaving, Mr Ssebuwufu assured me that if he didn’t get his money by 7pm that day, Betty would be dead,” Mr Tumusiime added.
The other key witness in the case was a medical doctor from the Government Analytical Lab (GAL), who told court that upon examining the blood samples picked from Ssebuwufu’s car and office walls, they matched those of Katusabe.
Dr Geoffrey Onen’s testimony corroborated the earlier evidence of Mr Tumusiime, who had told court that he saw Ssebuwufu and his men beat up Katusabe in his office on the fateful day.
“I received exhibits of blood samples, one from the car and another from the office walls. All the blood samples had DNA profile of female origin and from the same donor,” Dr Onen told court.
He added: “All these samples were compared with the DNA profiles got from Katusabe and they matched. My conclusion was that out of the analysis, there was extremely strong genetic evidence of composition of the deceased.”
The other piece of evidence that the prosecution presented was the testimony of a phone expert, detective Cpl Brian Magoola.
In his testimony, Magoola said Mr Baguma was on the fateful day in constant phone communication with Ssebuwufu.
The detective told court that the two communicated to each other more times on the fateful day of October 21 of 2015, than on any other previous day.
An analysis of the phone calls between the duo on that fateful day showed that they called each other more than seven times between 8pm to 11pm.
Timeline of the Pine Car Bond murder trial
October 21, 2015: Betty Katusabe is driven to Pine Car Bond on Lumumba Avenue in the city centre in a bid to force her to clear the Shs9m debt. She is tortured despite pleas for help. She succumbs to the injuries.
October 28, 2015: Ssebuwufu and four others are produced before Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court and charged with the murder and remanded to Luzira prison.
November 12, 2015: More suspects are added onto the charge sheet bringing the number to eight.
December 9, 2015: Court tasks prison officials to produce Ssebuwufu’s medical forms to confirm that he suffers from high blood pressure after a prison warder tells court that he left the suspect in a car at the court premises due to the condition.
December 23, 2015: Court commits the suspects to the High Court to stand trial after the then resident state attorney Jonathan Muwaganya informs the magistrate that although investigations into the case were still incomplete, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had collected sufficient evidence to commit the suspects for trial.
January 7, 2016: The DPP directs police to produce then Kampala Police Commander Aaron Baguma in court to face murder charges for his alleged role in Katusabe’s killing. A legal battle ensues between the DPP and police leadership on whether to produce the police boss in court.
August 30, 2016: Baguma secretly appears at the Buganda Road Court. He is charged with the murder and remanded. The DPP accused him of being liable for the death on account that he ignored her cries to rescue her.
September 8, 2016: Justice Wilson Masalu Musene of the High Court releases Baguma on bail.
September 9, 2016: The same court releases Ssebuwufu on bail.
October 1, 2018: Mr Alex Ojok, the Principal State Attorney in the DPP office, tells High Court judge Flavia Senoga Anglin that the DPP had withdrawn the murder charges against Baguma. Court accordingly frees Baguma. The lawyer representing Katusabe’s family says the DPP had intentions of turning Baguma into a state witness. However, he did not become a state witness.
December 4, 2018: Ssebuwufu gives his unsworn defence testimony denying participation in the murder.
April 29, 2019: Court assessors call for acquittal of the eight accused persons, arguing that the prosecution had failed to link them to Katusabe’s murder.
June 24, 2019: Court finally declares the accused guilty of murder, robbery and kidnap of Katusabe.
The convicts will be sentenced on July 1.
Reactions on verdict
Mr Ivan Mugisa, Katusabe’s father: “I want court to order for execution of these men. What they did by killing my daughter left all of us in shock. I am happy justice has been served.”
Ms Annette Kobusingye, deceased’s lawyer: “As advocates, we are happy since we have been waiting for this.”
Mr Morris Kule, deceased’s brother: “We thank the judge for being a very strong lady. We thank all the people who have been with us through the tough moments. We believe on July 1, we shall receive a judgment compatible with the crime committed against our sister. All the other relatives will know their beloved is resting in peace.
Mr Evans Ochieng, defence lawyer: “At this stage, we cannot really say the judgment was good or bad but we felt there was no evidence to base on to convict these accused persons. We shall read it in detail and we shall then be able to advise.”