When Marie-Louise Muhire, appearing in court last week, pleaded guilty to involvement in the murder of her estranged husband Dr Radjabu Mbukani, it came as a big surprise. Even though she had been a prime suspect ever since the gynecologist and university lecturer disappeared on December 29, and was formally accused, together with four others, of his murder after his body was found on January 3 in Kinyinya sector, few had expected that the mother of two would make a quick confession.
Muhire's neighbors in Nyakabanda, too, were taken aback. Of course there had been the interminable quarrels between the couple, and the woman had in the past already threatened to kill Mbukani, but nobody had thought that she would actually do it one day.
"I didn't believe it because I've known Muhire for five years now," neighbor Jean Marie-Vianney Nkunzurwamo told The Rwanda Focus. "She is that kind of a woman who changes quickly; she appeared to be friendly, you couldn't imagine how she planned such a thing."
Nkunzurwamo pointed out that while Muhire and Mbukani obviously had serious problems between them and were separated, the professor still paid regular visits to see his two children. That is confirmed by another neighbor.
"They were not formally married; I used to talk to Muhire and she explained that they had issues and had separated," said Therese Kanyange, adding that the woman had told her that 38-year-old Mbukani was not providing the money and care that she wanted. "But I never suspected that she would want to kill him."
Maman Bijou, as Kanyange is known in the neighborhood, also alleged that Muhire had learned that the late doctor had plans of marrying another woman living abroad (probably in the US). "She told me that she had asked him about it but Mbukani had denied it. But they were separated, so I didn't see any problem even if it were true."
"Be careful or I'll kill you too!" Murder-accused Marie-Louise Muhire in court to relatives of the late Dr Mbukani
Yet a barman at a Nyakabanda bar where Muhire used to take beer remarked he is not surprised to hear she is behind the murder, because according to him the woman never had anything good to say about her former companion. "She was always angry when talking about him; I even heard her say that she wanted him killed," said the man who did not want to give his name. He admitted, though, that he had never seen Mbukani in person.
Prior to the murder, Muhire had already been arrested on two occasions after thwarted plots to kill the doctor. On one occasion she had damaged her husband's car but she was released after Mbukani asked the police to let her go take care of the children.
The fact that Marie-Louise Muhire is a feisty woman was confirmed when she appeared before the Nyarugenge High court last Thursday with co-accused Vital Hagenimana, Clarisse Tuyisenge, Jean-Paul Cyuma, and Jean Baptiste Sekanyambo. The accused had made it clear that she didn't want any pictures or video taken of her, and when some journalists and a TVR cameraman nevertheless tried to do so, she tried to lash out to them (although she was restrained by handcuffs).
She then went on to threaten Dr Mbukani's relatives who were present in court. "Be careful or I'll kill you too!" Muhire shouted, pointing a finger to the horrified family members.
Nevertheless, it still came as a surprise that she readily admitted to be behind the beating to death of the doctor, explaining that she had lured him to the house on December 29 pretending that the children were sick, and that they then had a row over the fact that for nearly two months he hadn't given her child support.
"I asked him to give me some money to care for the children and he refused. I immediately signaled Cyuma who was nearby and he hit him with a heavy piece of wood," Muhire said, adding that meanwhile Hagenimana increased the TV's volume and she herself put a pillow on her husband's mouth to prevent him from screaming.
While Hagemimana and Cyuma also pleaded guilty, Jean-Baptiste Sekanyambo who is accused of having brought the driver to take away the body said he did so in order to help Muhire, who is his classmate at the Kigali Independent University. The driver, who all the accused only known as Kadogo, is still at large.
Clarisse Tuyisenge, Muhire's elder sister, who allegedly hired Hagemimana and Cyuma, also denies criminal intent, telling the court that she was asked by her sister to find her young men to help her move. "I didn't know about their intention to kill Mbukani. However, I had heard rumors that my sister wanted to kill her former husband."
While Muhire had requested provisional liberation so she could take care of her children, the court refused saying she might jeopardize the investigation, and ordered the detention of all accused for the next 30 days.