Linking a weapon to a death 2

Saturday April 20 2019

 

By Dr Sylvester Onzivua

On March 16, 1993, the High Court in Masaka convicted Charles Rwamunda of manslaughter and sentenced him to concurrent terms of 12 years after he was found guilty of having unlawfully caused the deaths of two persons; his aunt and her husband. His conviction for the lesser offence was due to his drunken state at the time of commission of the offence.

Court was of the opinion that Rwamunda had not been able to form the necessary intent to murder, because he had been drinking the whole day and night.

Court heard that on the night of March 13, 1990, Rwamunda, while in a drunken state cut his aunt Matilda and her husband using a panga. Matilda’s husband died instantly following the attack but Matilda died one month later, while still admitted in the hospital. The panga that was purportedly used in the attack was exhibited in court, and although it was of the right shape, namely, pointed, it was not clearly identified.
The doctor who performed the postmortem examination on the body of Matilda stated the cause of death was as a result of an abscess formation in the brain. Rwamunda applied against his conviction.

The first ground of the appeal was that the cause of Matilda’s death had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt, in view of the contradictions in the evidence given by the prosecution witnesses. It was pointed out that the injuries described by the doctor, as having been sustained by Matilda, did not include an important fact, that one of her fingers had been amputated.

It was further argued that although Matilda might be dead, the cause of her death was not clear, since she died almost a month after the incident. Altogether, the evidence did not show that the postmortem examination related to the body of Matilda.

The trial judge, however, accepted the evidence of the witnesses who had known both Matilda and her husband before the incident, and had formally identified their bodies during the postmortem examinations.

One of the witnesses had even visited Matilda two times in the hospital before she died. Court therefore ruled that the doctor who carried out the postmortem must have been careless and did not report the amputation of the fingers. This carelessness, however, to court, did not interfere with the correct identification of the body of Matilda.

Conflicting accounts
Another ground of appeal was that the cause of Matilda’s death was not established with certainty and linked to the panga exhibited in court. There was also the lapse of time from the incident to the death and there was no evidence to explain what happened during this interval.

The witnesses gave conflicting descriptions to the wounds. The doctor recorded the wounds as lacerations with healing scars while the investigating officer described the injuries as cut wounds. But the alleged weapon was a panga, which normally causes cut wounds.

The panga was not formally shown to the doctor. Indeed when the doctor testified, he told court that the wounds that Matilda sustained could have been caused by a blunt weapon or a sharp one. It was also unfortunate that no clinical report for the treatment of Matilda was produced in court.

To the trial judge, however, the contradictions in respect of the descriptions of the wounds did not weaken the finding that Matilda’s death was as a result of raised intracranial pressure caused by an abscess formation in the sagittal sinus.

To court, whatever weapon had been used, the wounds on Matilda’s head had become infected, and the infection had affected the brain, and so caused death. The brain infection was therefore the direct result of the wounds.

Court concurred with the defense lawyer that the panga exhibited in court had not been identified beyond reasonable doubt. It was not tested by the government chemist so as to confirm if it had blood stains on it and if the blood stains were consistent or inconsistent with the blood grouping of Matilda or her husband.

To court, the doctor’s descriptions of the wounds that Matilda sustained as lacerations and that of the investigating officer as cut wounds, was of no real importance as it was not known what weapon was used.

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