Tempers flare as Katanga’s  murder case returns to court 

The late Henry Katanga’s daughter Patricia Kakwanza (left), George Amanyire (centre) and Dr Charles Otai, in the dock at Nakawa Chief Magistrate’s Court in Kampala, on Dcember 4, 2023. Photo/Abubaker Lubowa

What you need to know:

  • The court proceedings began normally at around 10am until Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana, the former deputy Attorney General, representing the family of the late Katanga, made his submission.

Tempers ran high at Nakawa Chief Magistrate’s Court yesterday as the murder case of businessman Henry Katanga resumed.
Lawyers of both sides sparred before the relatives of the late businessman and widow Molly Katanga.
The court proceedings began normally at around 10am until Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana, the former deputy Attorney General, who was representing the family of the late Katanga, made his submission. 

He introduced himself and said he was leading a host of other lawyers on “watching brief” to assist the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in prosecuting the widow (Molly Katanga) and three others.
Moments after Mr Rukutana took his seat, defence lawyers from Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA) objected to Mr Rukutana and group usurping the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
“We strongly object to the presence of our colleagues at the Bar because this is prosecution-led case and not a private prosecution. Our senior colleague has laid out a list of people that he represents. I don’t know whether these people are spectators, time-wasters, but if they want, they should go to police and make statements and come as witnesses,” Mr Jet John Tumwebaze said.

“….and he clearly said he is on watching brief and his eyes are very long, he can watch from the Bar but if it’s a private prosecution, then he is in the right place but if he is on the watching brief as he introduced himself, then he is in the wrong place and he needs to sit back and watch with his eye,” Mr Tumwebaze added. 
Mr Bruce Musinguzi, also from KAA, cited a case from Nigeria in which court held that a lawyer on watching brief “only watches” and is “not heard”.
Mr Rukutana responded that he is a member of the Bar and a senior one at that and that he was wondering where he went wrong.
“I don’t see why at this early stage, my colleagues are uncomfortable. We are going to assist in the administration and even advise. Our interest is to ensure justice is done, that is all,” he said. 
Likewise, Mr Frank Kanduho said his colleague, Rukutana on watching brief, sits at the Bar because he is not a witch-doctor but an advocate of courts of Judicature.
“So this is our traditional place of comfort. So for anybody to say that we should be excommunicated from where we belong, is wrong,” Mr Kanduho said.
He disagreed with defence lawyers’ arguments that watching brief ought to “only be seen” and “not to be heard”. He said the same defeats its own logic because it is the same lawyer on watching brief to be seen by a judicial officer.
Mr Kanduho also cited a case from Kenya, which he said the watching brief has evolved and now involves cross examining witnesses.  At the tail end of their arguments and counter arguments, Mr Elison Karuhanga and Kanduho almost went physical before the magistrate, with each trying to prove a point.

“Your honour, what we have here is an attempt at a State and private prosecution. Actually, with due respect, we are seeing the hijacking of the State power and this hijacking is intended to crucify and ambush the accused in the dock. This ambush and the list of the people raised, has raised serious questions about the ability of the accused persons to be tried fairly,” Mr Karuhanga said. 
“Our criminal justice system is that revenge comes through the State. In due course, we shall also raise serious concerns about the way this case has been brought to this court,” he added.

Before Mr Karuhanga could wind up his argument and sit down, Mr Kanduho shot up and interjected. This saw two lawyers competing to get the attention of presiding Chief Magistrate Elias Kakooza.
“My learned friends can practice the victim prosecution and persecution angle from Kenya but here in Uganda, there is no such amendment. There is a difference between a watching brief and amicus curiae. Honourable Rukutana said he is here to assist both sides. In that case, he should file an amicus curiae (friend of court) application and I have never heard of an amicus in a criminal trial,” Mr Karuhanga said, adding: “I pray my lord and honour that you chase my learned friends from the Bar and allow this trial to proceed without the drama, fanfare, and the confusion that my learned colleagues are causing.” 

This submission attracted cheers from court users. Presiding chief magistrate ruled that Mr Rukutana and group speak through the DPP representative.

About the case
Katanga, a very wealthy businessman, was reportedly found dead on November 2 in his living room. His wife, Molly, was immediately whisked away and reportedly admitted to intensive care unit at International Hospital (IHK) where she remains to-date.  
Those currently indicted include his widow Molly, who faces murder charges and her two daughters, Martha Nkwanzi Katanga and Patricia Kakwanza, who both face the charge of destroying evidence. 
The other accused persons are Charles Otai, a medic who allegedly appeared at Katanga’s Mbuya residence shortly after his shooting, and George Amanyire, a shamba boy. The duo faces the charge of accessory after the fact of murder.

Bail application denied
Chief Magistrate Kakooza later rejected the defence lawyers who had attempted to apply for bail for the three accused persons. The trio has been on remand at Luzira prison for the past two weeks.
The magistrate reasoned that he was uncomfortable entertaining the bail application even if he had the powers (jurisdiction) to hear the same.
“I am uncomfortable hearing this bail application given that this matter involves multiple offenses including murder,” Magistrate Kakooza ruled.
He went on to advise Mr Bruce Musinguzi, who had attempted to apply for the accused persons’ bail, to try the High Court. 

The State prosecutor Mariam Kuruthumu asked court to issue a warrant of arrest for the widow and her daughter Nkwanza.
Ms Kuruthumu reasoned that there is no official record in her possession about Molly being admitted. 
“What we are praying for is for this court to allow us have access to the suspects. Have them properly examined. But as far as we are concerned today, we are praying for a warrant to be issued so that they can come into our custody and doctors determine whether they can stand trial or not,” Ms Kuruthumu said.

“Since we have served them and they have not voluntarily come to us, we pray for a warrant of arrest and examine them. As far as we are concerned, we don’t know what is happening. None of our investigators is being allowed where they are,” she added, amidst clapping from Katanga’s relatives.
Mr Karuhanga, in defence, said his client Molly is still hospitalised with severe head injuries. He also argued that Molly’s daughter, whom the State had prayed for issuance of arrest warrant, was still in hospital after she developed post-birth complications.

Mr Karuhanga instead prayed that court extends the earlier criminal summons instead of issuing a warrant of arrest as prayed for by the prosecution.
The magistrate agreed with Mr Karuhanga and extended the criminal summons until January 8 next year. The remanded suspects return to court on December 18.

Katanga relatives angry  
Some of Katanga’s relatives came to court dressed in black T-shits with words inscribed on them “Justice for Henry Katanga murdered on 02 November, 2023”.
Moments after court adjourned, one of the deceased’s relatives was heard demanding to know why their brother was murdered in cold blood and yet he was their sole bread winner.

“Respect yourself, a good man was murdered, you have taken us for a ride. Kibooge (a name of one of Molly’s relatives at court) respect yourself. You are taking us on a rollcoaster ride, and you expect us to keep quiet. Do you know what it means to kill somebody, how do you…?” an emotionally charged Katanga’s relative was heard shouting on top of her voice.

“Do you know what that man (Katanga) meant to us as a family? You disgust us and God is watching you. Kibooge and everybody else in that group, God is watching you,” she added.