What you need to know:
- The assessors in their joint opinion before judgment had advised the trial judge to convict Nyangasi of manslaughter rather than murder as, to them, the prosecution had not discharged its duty of proving the ingredient of malice aforethought to the required degree, that is, beyond reasonable doubt.
On October 19, 2012 the High Court of Uganda in Kampala found Apollo Nyangasi Dalton, the all-powerful and onetime chairperson of the Medical Workers Union of Uganda, guilty of the murder of his wife Christine Nyangasi Dambio.
The assessors in their joint opinion before judgment had advised the trial judge to convict Nyangasi of manslaughter rather than murder as, to them, the prosecution had not discharged its duty of proving the ingredient of malice aforethought to the required degree, that is, beyond reasonable doubt.
Christine died when her heart slowed down and eventually stopped. Nyangasi held her by the neck during a scuffle during which he strangled her, leaving her struggling for breath and thereafter was observed heaving at long intervals with noises in her chest. Christine was declared dead on arrival in Mulago Hospital and the pathologist who carried out the postmortem on the body of Christine established that she had died due to an acute failure of the her heart, which was attributed to pressure applied to her neck. Court considered this an unlawful death.
A person is deemed to cause the death of another person with malice aforethought if court considers that accused foresaw or knew that death would be a natural consequence of that act that led to the death of the deceased. It is, however, debatable if Nyangasi, a pharmacist, really knew the scientific consequences of squeezing a person’s neck, an unpredictable physiological event. Court was not in doubt that the neck is a very vulnerable part of the body and the hands, when applied with force to the neck, can become lethal weapons.
Nyangasi and Christine got married in 1993 and were blessed with two children. Their marriage went on the rocks and was characterised by frequent quarrels, accusations and fights. Although there were attempts by family members to sort out these challenges of marriage Christine eventually moved out of the matrimonial home and started to live in another house located in the same courtyard.
She was, however, worried about her life and told her siblings and friends that Nyangasi had, not once but several times, threatened to kill her. Christine told her brothers that one of the causes of their marital woes was that Nyangasi was planning to sell their property, to which she was opposed. Nyangasi also wanted her out of his life in order to bring in his former girl friend with whom he had fathered a child.
On October 24, 2012 the High Court sentenced Nyangasi for the murder of his wife. Prosecution had asked court to sentence Nyangasi to death, the maximum sentence for murder. The State submitted strongly that the prevalence of violence within the family setting, also known as intimate partner violence, calls for courts to make a strong deterrent statement to the public. To the State, what Nyangasi did was the highest form to which violence within a family setting can reach, yet it is supposed to be one of the safest institutions. The State further submitted that a husband is expected to protect his wife and not be the cause of her death.
The State further argued that the circumstances of the case showed that Nyangasi planned to kill his wife, the mother of his two children. And that the idea that he not only threatened to do so, and actually planned to do so and did so needed to be treated with the seriousness the situation warranted. Although the State conceded that Nyangasi had no record of any previous conviction, the circumstances in this case justified the highest penalty.
Murder is a capital offence in Uganda and this means that a person found guilty of murder can be sentenced to death. Initially the death sentence was mandatory for the offence of murder. The Constitutional Court however declared that the mandatory death sentence is unconstitutional in a case filed before it in 2006.
Nyangasi’s lawyer told court that each family has its unique challenges and a death penalty would not address these challenges. Rather the purpose of sentencing is to ensure reform but not to cause death. The lawyer also asked court to consider the fate of the two children who had already lost their mother.
To court for a trained person like Nyangasi to apply professional knowledge, skill and tact to end the life of a spouse of 17 years was to act in total disregard for human life. The law provides for an entry into a marital union and equally provides for a way out should a couple reach a point where they feel their marriage is irretrievably broken. The fact that Nyangasi ended the life of his spouse meant he had no respect for the rule of law and did not value the life of other people and was therefore was not civilised. Society, and especially women, needed to be protected from such ruthless people.
Court considered all the mitigating factors presented and therefore did not hand down the maximum penalty of the death sentence to Nyangasi. Court did think that Nyangasi deserved to stay away from society for the rest of his life and therefore sentenced him to life imprisonment.
The Constitutional Court of Uganda, in a unanimous decision, quashed the earlier Supreme Court interpretation that held life imprisonment meant being jailed for the rest of their natural life. The court ruled that jail sentences that are above 20 years are not backed by law and in effect reduced life imprisonment to 20 years. Nyangasi however appealed the sentence.