Fear stalks the village of Kacumbiro, Rushere in Kiruhura Village seven years after the murder of Daniel Karuhanga alongside five of his servants.
In the quiet of the night of August 16, 2013, three men with the aid of torches trudged through a nearby farm as a gush of wind drifted across the fields where cows graze.
A pitch-dark curtain enveloped the area as the rains pelted the gentle hills that lulled the area residents into deep sleep. What unfolded later that night, left indelible scars that are yet to heal.
Earlier on in the day, heavy rains had pounded the area. Karuhanga, who briefly spoke to one of his daughters, Esther Nyakato, a few hours before he was killed, revealed to her that the rains were heavy and he could not hear her well. He promised to speak to her the next day. But this did not happen.
Earlier on in the evening, James Asiimwe, Nathan Mugoha, and Amon Twabagye had prowled the neighbourhood. They later carried out an attack in the village.
Using logs, they ambushed Stephen Ziriza and Gordon Nkonko who were driving in a Toyota Premio and robbed them of money and cell phones.
When the robbers fled, Ziriza telephoned the then Kiruhura District Police Commander Norman Musinga, informing him of the robbery. Mr Musinga promised to inform the then officer-in-charge of Nyakasharara Police Station, Turyomurugyendo, about the robbery. By the time, Turyomurugendo responded, the criminals had already fled, according to a statement he made to police.
Their other target that evening was Karuhanga, a prominent dairy farmer and church elder.
The velvet dark after midnight gave cover to the killers who used a narrow path in the neighbourhood to reach the home of Karuhanga.
Karuhanga, who was staying with his second wife, Joyce Kabashaho, had barely gone to sleep when the killers struck shortly after midnight.
There are claims that before the family went to bed on the night he was killed, two dishes of beans and beef were prepared for dinner.
“Dad and the servants ate from one saucepan and my step-mum and her ate from another saucepan,” revealed Isaac Karuhanga, the son of the late Karuhanga, who rushed to the scene of crime in the morning.
He revealed further that this was not a usual custom. “It started a few days before the killings.”
Another old man we took as our brother, Eldard Tumwine, was suspicious and had started cooking his own meals. Tumwine’s body was found in the compound.
Inside the home, according to the survivors, the killers struck with menace. According to one of the survivors, whose identity cannot be revealed for safety reasons, they entered the house without any struggle.
So why were the locks not closed on the night the assailants struck?
Some of the survivors claim that the victims barely put up a fight. Is it likely that their meal was laced and the victims were killed deep in their sleep?
The head of Mulago National Referral Hospital’s Forensic Unit, Dr Sylvester Onzivua, picked interest in this case as a forensics medicine expert.
“A postmortem examination together with other corroborative forensic evidence should be used to reconstruct events. You should be able to say this happened at this point and this happened like that,” revealed Onzivua.
He also studied the postmortem report, which was submitted in court during trial and found it inadequate.
“During the discovery of the bodies, the doctor should have been there with the forensic officer. Then you will be able to establish whether this person at the place of the discovery of the body, or the person was killed from another place and the body brought here,” Onzivua told Daily Monitor.
“From the evidence in court and postmortem reports, one of the biggest weaknesses is we don’t have standard operating procedures [SOPs] and this came out very clearly in this particular case,” he said.
He revealed that the blood spatter patterns should have been observed as well.
“Now this would tell you from the blood spatter patterns of blood jetting out at the point somebody is killed. Was this wound inflicted when the person was alive? We know that you can inflict a cut on somebody who has died,” Onzivua said.
He also revealed that one ought to document external wounds as well as dissecting the body and look at internal injuries during the postmortem.
“In this particular case, the doctor confessed that he did not dissect the bodies. This should have been mandatory as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs),” argued Onzivua.
However, Onzivua revealed that the country lacks properly trained morticians to assist pathologists in dissecting bodies.
The statement of Mr Musinga was instructive of what was discovered at the crime scene.
“At the scene, I found Daniel Karuhanga and his five workers were killed. I found two bodies in the small grass-thatched hut and the bodies had wounds at the neck with sharp deep cuts---. Two bodies were lying in one bed in one of the rooms in the main house,” he said.
“One body was lying in the compound and was of Eldard Tumwine, a long-standing worker of the late Karuhanga. I saw some signs of struggle on the same scene,” reads Musinga’s statement recorded on September 9, 2013.
From this observation, it was strange that apart from Tumwine, the other workers and Karuhanga did not have any defensive injuries.
Was this revelatory that perhaps the victims were in a deep slumber by the time the assailants struck?
The assailants then asked for the keys of Karuhanga’s car, which they later sped off with. Ms Kabashaho told police that the assailants did not harm her but only revealed that they had been hired to kill Karuhanga.
So why did the survivors not make an alarm after the killers drove away with the vehicle?
Once the killers left, Ms Kabashaho claims that it was until the crack of dawn when a four-year-old grandchild of Karuhanga was thrust through the window iron-bars and placed outside the house that they regained their freedom.
But how possible was it that a child of four years would go through these iron-bars and open the door?
Ms Kabashaho later went to Kiruhura Police Station to report the killings.
Who wanted Karuhanga dead? Did they want a stake in his property, which included 150 heads of cattle and a vast expanse of prime land measuring 133 acres?
A toxic family feud with Karuhanga’s first wife, Jovia Karuhanga, resulted in a divorce in 2011. Most of the children sided with their mother.
Could Karuhanga’s first wife in cahoots with her children have plotted to kill her husband or did someone exploit the rift to frame his first wife and children?
In 2010, Ms Jovia reported to Ibanda Chief Magistrate Court accusing her husband of not caring for the family and mismanaging family property.
A meeting convened at Mosa Courts in Kampala, in August 2011 agreed that they separate amicably. Mr Karuhanga first moved to Rushere Town and later returned to his land where he had built a small house, which also accommodated his servants.
He lived here with Ms Kabashaho and servants until he was killed.
On August 17, 2013 police arrested Ms Jovia, together with her son John Musiime, and all the adults in her household, who included two housemaids, a driver and a herdsman. They were detained at Rushere Police Station.
On the same day, the police arrested her other children including Alice Nayebare, Grace
Karuhanga and Jolly Akandwanaho who were driving from Kampala upon learning of their father’s death.
President Museveni, who personally knew Karuhanga, had instructed then IGP Kale Kayihura to find the killers.
Gen Kayihura in turn delegated Charles Kataratambi, the commandant of police Flying Squad, to net the killers.
But a few days prior to his death, something peculiar happened. Deogratius Twazagye, who sold a car to Karuhanga, had earlier on attempted to use the deceased’s car as collateral for a loan.
Mr Emmanuel Byarugaba, a loans officer with Ugafode, revealed that he knew Twazagye as a client. Just two days before Karuhanga was killed, Twazagye applied for a loan of Shs20m.
He wanted to use Karuhanga’s vehicle as his security but on the day Byarugaba visited to inspect the vehicle he purported was his, he was told that the vehicle had transported a patient to Mayanja Memorial Hospital in Mbarara.
The purported patient was Kabashaho’s child.
However, although the administrators of Mayanja Memorial hospital did not speak on record, they allowed us to inspect the records, which showed that on that day no child was admitted at Mayanja Memorial hospital.
A day after, Twazagye came to Ugafode office in Mbarara Town at midday driving the white Toyota Spacio reg. No UAR 517 H. According to the witness statement, he did not have the logbook and the loans officer declined to consider it as a mortgage.
According to a statement recorded by Twazagye on October 1, 2013, he claims that whereas he sold Karuhanga the vehicle, the deceased owed him Shs8 million.
“He [Karuhanga] died before giving me the money. I handed the motor-vehicle logbook to Emma who
works as a loans officer with Ugafode Microfinance Bank, Mbarara branch. I informed Mzee Karuhanga on phone about it,” Mr Twazagye says.
On the day Karuhanga was killed Twazagye spent the night in a lodge with a woman near the resident of Karuhanga.
In her statement to police, Mr Kabashaho claims the killer entered the room with a gun, panga and hammer.
“Mr Karuhanga fought in self-defence but the killer overpowered him. The killer did not touch me and said I do not want to kill you. He only asked for the card of the vehicle. I feared to get out in the morning and the door was locked from outside, I forced the child out of the window and the child opened for me,” she revealed.
Musinga statement’s further read: On Saturday August 17, 2013, I received information of the murder of Karuhanga and his five workers, I immediately called the RPC Rwizi region and at around 7:40am, I mobilised personnel and the OC station Turyomurugyendo to go and cordon off the scene of the murder until when I could come with the canine and not to temper with the scene of crime.”
He later followed the advance team and found when the place was already cordoned off. “I was able to establish how many were dead and gave feedback to the RPC Rwizi Region. I was joined by OC/ CIID Kiruhura, Noreen Akello who commenced her probe.”
Investigations of canines
Later, the Rwizi Regional Police Commander, Mr Martin Abilu, came with the canine from Mbarara.
“The canine led them to the home of Ms Jovia but nothing was recovered. But since there was a rift, I arrested the wife and later the children and Twazagye who was with his vehicle previously.”
Norman Ahimbisibwe, an employee of Ms Jovia in his statement claimed that Grace Nuwamanya came to her mother’s home on the night Karuhanga was killed in a small car with his wife.
“I heard Ms Jovia telling her son Nuwamanya and his wife that they should kill Karuhanga and upon entering they kept quiet. Ms Jovia repeated that we must kill Karuhanga, that even if she was imprisoned, she will be freed,” reads Ahimbisibwe’s statement.
He revealed further: “At about 11pm, I saw lights flashing in the compound and opened the door and saw a [Toyota] Land-Cruiser which parked near Jovia’s house. Nuwamanya came out with a short and stout man wearing a black jacket. He later left claiming he was going to repair the vehicle.”
In part two of the Panorama Series ‘Murder in Kiruhura’ we expose a murky plot of how sleuths, servants and some of the accused plotted to frame Karuhanga’s first wife and her children. It took six years of a protracted battle to clear their name in the courts of law.
Deceased’s son controlled the plan. According to a charge and caution statement made by James Asiimwe, who participated in the killings, he revealed that it’s his co-accused Mugoha and Grace Karuhanga, the son of the deceased who forced him to participate in the crime.
“One of them said I would be slaughtered if I refuse the mission, they drove towards Rushere Town with their pangas inside the car. I recall I saw four pangas and one hammer. Bujoro parked the car in the middle of the farm. There was another white car and I saw two people and in the back were six ladies.”
Asiimwe alleged that Mr Grace briefed them and said among the people to be killed was Mzee Karuhanga and the first to be killed should be the driver of Karuhanga who knows the family.
“He was holding a polythene bag containing money. We left the two cars behind and we proceeded to Karuhanga’s home and entered the compound and Grace stood on one of the windows of the house. Grace ordered for the breaking of Mzee’s door and window and made sure that he is dead.
I wish to state that although I did not enter, I saw Grace control the whole place.” Asiimwe claims that he was told he would be killed if he spoke out.