18 June 2017

Uganda: High Court Jails Four Men for Attacking, Robbing Zombo Villagers

Photo: Daily Monitor
4 men jailed for attacking and robbing Zombo villagers.

Kampala — Nestore Ocaki, a resident of Palei Jupanyanda village, Nyapea Sub-county in Zombo District, badly needed money. Ocaki neither had savings nor agricultural produce to sell to get the money he needed.

He turned to the only property he had - land.

He got a willing buyer, Paskwale Awacango, to whom he sold a piece of his land.

No sooner had Ocaki's relatives got wind of the transaction than they lodged a complaint that the land he had sold was a clan property, which he didn't have sole ownership over.

Before the case could be taken to the elders for mediation, tension worsened.

On April 30, 2013, a group of men armed with sticks, machetes, bows and arrows descended on the village and attempted to forcibly evict Awacango from the land.

Awacango and Ocaki, with the aid of their neighbours, resisted the eviction. They armed themselves and confronted the men but lost the bloody fight.

The invaders made off with properties of the vanquished, including goats. They also destroyed properties of the vanquished. Several residents of the village and some of the attackers sustained injuries.

Officers at Zombo Police Station were informed about the incident and they rushed to the crime scene. They administered first aid to injured residents before taking them to the hospital.

Detective Sergeant (D/Sgt) Silvano Oyeki, who was assigned to lead the investigation into the case, said among those he administered first aid on was Godfrey Ogenmungu. He had been shot in the arm with an arrow and was bleeding profusely when the police arrived at the scene.

"I found arrows and stick that had been abandoned at the scene. I collected them as exhibits," D/Sgt Oyeki said in his statement.

Awacango told D/Sgt Oyeki that he was tilling his garden on the disputed land when Bernard Ocor came and demanded that he should stop conducting any activity on it, adding that he would be harmed if he did not heed the demand.

"He said if I don't stop, he was going to bring his men and remove me forcefully. I didn't leave. I just continued with my work," Awacango said.

Awacango said at around 4pm, a group of men armed with sticks, machetes, bows and arrows stormed his garden.

When Awacango saw them, he fled and hid in a nearby bush. The men turned their wrath on his goats that he had tethered near his garden, hitting one so severely that it died instantly.

Some of the men untied the remaining goats and went with them.

Others continued their hunt for Awacango and when they discovered where he was hiding, he jumped out of the bush and fled to the home of his uncle Charles Oryema with the assailants in hot pursuit.

Realising that seeking refuge at his uncle's place was no good, he sought safety elsewhere.

His pursuers reached Oryema's house shortly after Awacango had left and forced their way in. When they did not find him inside they turned their rage on Oryema whom they beat up.

Awacango said he heard his pursuers saying they were heading to Stephano Ocamgiu's home. He said he later learnt that they indeed went to Ocamgiu's home, beat him and his relatives and stole his goats.

Ocamgiu told the police that the assailants found him seated at his home and beat him up. They also assaulted his relatives, injuring them.

"One man wanted to shoot arrows at Ocanda, but he was restrained by his accomplices. They told him that Ocanda was aged. They said it would be better to shoot the younger ones. That is when he turned the bow on Ogenmungu and shot an arrow that hit him in the neck. Another hit him with an arrow on the leg and on the arm," Ocamgiu said.

Ocamgiu said he took the opportunity to escape when the assailants had turned their attention on his relatives. He identified two of the assailants as Alfred Athocon and Ocor.

"Ocor run after me and hit me with a stick. He failed to stop me, so he picked a stone and threw it at me. Although it hit my arm, it wasn't able to stop me from escaping," he said.

Ocamgiu told the police that Athocon attempted to hack him with a machete but he dodged it and the machete blow landed on Ocor, injuring him. He said he had Shs250,000 in a bag, which he dropped while escaping and it was taken by Athocon.

D/Sgt Oyeki recorded a dozen other statements that pointed at Athocon and Onyuthi as the prime suspects in the raid. A day later, police raided the neighbouring village where they recovered the stolen goats at Onyuthi's home. The owners identified them as those that were stolen the previous day in the raid.

"When we arrested Onyuthi, he conceded that the goats were not his. He, however, gave us details how he came into possession of the goats," D/Sgt Oyeki said in the statement.

Onyuthi said he found Athocon on the way with the goats and asked him where he was taking the goats.

He told the police that Athocon said he had confiscated them from Ocamgiu's home, and he was going to sell them to treat Ocor, who had been injured in the fight.

Onyuthi claimed to have rebuked Athocon for confiscating the goats. He said in his statement that he took the goats from Athocon and returned them to their owners' home but did not find them at home. So, he said, he kept them at his home at night, intending to return them to their owners the next day.

"They were found in my home the next day before I could hand them over to the owner. Then I was arrested," he told D/Sgt Oyeki.

Onyuthi denied participating in the raid. Basing on Onyuthi's statement, D/Sgt Oyeki arrested Athocon and Ocor. Athocon contested Onyuthi's claim that he found him with the stolen goats. He said he went to Palei Jupanyanda village after he was told that his son, Jenano Odongo, had been injured in fight.

He added that he took his injured son to a medical centre in Nyapea for treatment. His statement placed his son, Odongo, at the scene of crime. Police also arrested Odongo.

Odongo told police that he was a victim in the fight because he was attacked when he was not involved in anyway.

Police slapped charges of aggravated robbery against the four suspects: Athocon, Onyothi, Odongo and Ocor.

Slapping aggravated robbery charges, which attract a death sentence on conviction, against people who engaged in a clan fight with their relatives, was seen by many Zombo leaders as too harsh.

The four suspects were taken to court and remanded. In 2016, their trial started at Arua High Court.

Like the Zombo leaders, the assessors' opinion was that the suspects should be convicted of the offence of affray not aggravated robbery. Affray is an offence of fighting in a public place, which result in causing disturbance of peace.

Trial judge Stephen Mubiru disagreed with the assessors.

On February 7, 2017, Judge Mubiru convicted the four accused of four counts of aggravated robbery.

Judgement

"From the earlier proposed term of 29 years imprisonment, arrived at after consideration of the mitigating factors in favour of the convicts, the convicts having been charged on July 15, 2013, and kept in custody since then, I hereby take into account and set off three years and seven months as the period the convicts have already spent on remand. I, therefore, sentence each of the four convicts: Athocon, Onyuthi, Odongo and Ocor respectively to a term of imprisonment of six years and five months in respect of count 1 (aggravated robbery); imprisonment of six years and five months in respect of count 2 (aggravated robbery); imprisonment of six years and five months in respect of count 3; and imprisonment of six years and five months, in respect of count four (aggravated robbery). The four sentences are to run concurrently and are to be served by each of the convicts respectively starting today.

It is mandatory under Section 286 (4) of the Penal Code Act, where a person is convicted of Aggravated Robbery c/s 285 and 286 (2), unless the offender is sentenced to death, for the court to order the person convicted to pay such sum by way of compensation to any person to the prejudice of whom the robbery was committed, as in the opinion of the court is just having regard to the injury or loss suffered by such person. Although there was evidence that one of the goats was not recovered and another was killed, their value was not established in evidence. I am, therefore, unable to order any compensation in that regard.

I was as well not provided with evidence on basis of which to order compensation for the injuries suffered by PW4 (prosecution witness), so I do not make any order of compensation in that regard. The evidence during the trial sufficiently established that Victor Ocamgiu lost cash (Shs250,000). Taken by Athocon during the scuffle. Athocon did not challenge this evidence and I do not have any reason to doubt the amount stated as having been robbed. Athocon Alfred is, therefore, ordered to compensate Victor Ocamgiu the sum of Shs250,000 within three months from today, failure of which he is to serve an additional term of imprisonment of two years.

The convicts are advised that they have a right of appeal against both conviction and sentence within a period of 14 days."

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