The postmortem results from Mulago state that Abraham Ochabal died of heart failure, but the family believes their next of kin was murdered on December 8. Charles Etukuri revisits the case.
It is now a month since 34-year-old Abraham Ochabal, a young entrepreneur and student of Kyambogo University, met his death at his home in Seeta, where he was staying with his girlfriend Prisca Atwine.
Events surrounding his death remain a mystery, which became more intriguing by the different accounts from the postmortem report, Atwine and a night guard.
A sister to the deceased who works upcountry recalls talking to Ochabal on Friday December 7, a day before his death. “We talked that Friday morning and I told him I was travelling to Kampala, where we would discuss some business together,” she recalls. But since her workstation was far, she took long to reach Kampala, and the two decided to meet the following day.
In the wee hours of Saturday December 8, Ochabal’s brother-in-law, Godfrey Tumusiime, received a call from Atwine saying Ochabal was in critical condition. Tumusiime is married to Ochabal’s sister. He immediately asked Atwine to find the quickest means to take him to Nakasero Hospital, but he would not make it.
To friends who had seen him on Friday morning at the British Council offices, where he was doing a part-time job, the news that Ochabal was dead was shocking.
According to Atwine’s first version of events, she woke up in the middle of the night and felt for Ochabal, but he was not in bed. When she went to the sitting room, she found him sleeping on the couch and breathing with difficulty.
However, she also gave a contradictory account, saying the deceased was watching television late into the night, when he developed laboured breathing. The first people who arrived on the scene say Atwine told them that she had delayed to open the door because Ochabal had soiled himself.
Tumusiime asked her to drive Ochabal to Nakasero Hospital in the hope that he had just fainted, but unknown to her, he was already dead. According to one of those who carried him to the car, Ochabal was already lifeless.
On reaching Nakasero Hospital, the doctor who checked him pronounced him dead.
“It was hard to believe that the person we had talked on Friday evening and was full of life was now dead,” says Tumusiime. As they sought answers from Atwine, their suspicions grew as she attempted to explain what had transpired.
The night guard’s account further heightened their suspicion because it contradicted what Atwine said. Her conduct immediately after the incident also raised more questions for the family.
“We were still mourning and expected her to be more touched than any of us, but then she quickly volunteered and signed the medical forms and gave permission to carry out a post-mortem as next of kin,” says a relative to Ochabal.
The relative adds that at this time, they were still in shock and did not mind her signing the forms. But even as they were still in the hospital, she made phone calls to people, using the deceased’s phone, talking about her graduation plans, four days away.
The family says during the requiem mass at St. Andrew’s Church Bukoto, when she was introduced, she waved at the mourners without breaking down.
The relatives also say her conduct as she accompanied them to the burial made them more suspicious. “We set off at around 9:00pm. She kept calling different people, planning her graduation party and mentioning our relative’s death casually.”
At one point, an in-law who was driving stopped, wanting her out of the car. When they got to the village for burial, she wanted it done hurriedly so that she could return to Kampala and attend to other pressing matters.
Neighbours at Ochabal’s residence talk of suspicious activities immediately after Ochabal’s death and the two days preceding his burial. “We saw strange people coming into the house and start living in, including her relatives,” says one of them.
The neighbour also says the curtains and carpets were washed. Upon her return, she immediately started her graduation arrangements and then removed some of the deceased’s items from the house, replacing them with another man’s items.
Neighbours say a man who had often been introduced to them as a brother started living in the house. “We knew him as a brother but he suddenly became the new house owner, a week after Ochabal’s burial.”
Going to police
When they fi nally returned from the village, the relatives then proceeded to Jinja Road Police Station and opened up a general inquiries file number GEF/31/2012. After recording statements from the family, the Police promised to carry out an investigation.
However, the family faults the Police, claiming that despite being told to visit the scene of the crime, they did not and delayed the immediate investigations with requests for facilitation.
In another petition, dated January 8, 2013, addressed to the CIID boss, the family states: “The crime scene was not visited. Although the family sealed it off, in anticipation of the Police to visit and record statements, to our shock the same Police are instead attempting to aid the principle suspect to access the house under the guise of picking her things. We strongly objected to this kind of selective justice and unfairness.” When the Police eventually visited the scene to effect arrests, so many things had changed in the house.
Family members say a day before the deceased died, he was expecting money from a non-governmental organisation with which he had won a tender to supply bulls. Part payment had allegedly been made to his account and he was also expecting money from his part-time job with the British Council.
Relatives now believe that this could have been a motive for whoever wanted him dead. They say a few days after Ochabal died, efforts were made to block his accounts. When Atwine visited one of the banks and attempted to withdraw money, the deceased’s card was captured. She then called one of the relatives for money, but this time detectives had received useful leads and started laying the trap for her arrest.
The family also says Atwine has since taken over the deceased’s property in the house. One of the people who was seen with her moments before Ochabal died — Ivan was seen by neighbours ferrying boxes from the house that night.
On December 30, Atwine was arrested after several people had recorded statements implicating her in the death of Ochabal. She then recorded a statement at the Police.
The file was sent to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and a charge of murder preferred. Ochabal’s relatives say while she was in powerful people kept calling, trying to secure her release.
Sensing that something was amiss, they rushed to CIID headquarters where they met the deputy director, Godfrey Musana, who intervened. The fi le was eventually sent to the Resident State Attorney (RSA) in Mukono for advice and she referred the case back to the investigators, calling on them to carry out further investigations.
However, the family now says the fi le sent to RSA had some missing statements. “We got information that some statements in the fi le were deliberately plucked out.” Atwine was released on bond on Friday, January 5, 2013.
Family contests post-mortem results
In a letter dated December 28, 2012 addressed to the director of Criminal Investigations Intelligence Unit, the family contested the post-mortem results, maintaining that it was hurriedly done and without the next of kin. They also claim the suspect and her relations were in constant contact with a staff at Mulago Hospital’s radiology department, who may have infl uenced the outcome of the results. The Police has recorded statements from the pathologist, Dr. Male Mutumba.
Police put up defence
At Jinja Road Police Station, Moses Elilu, who handled the file, says they did their best and though the main suspect was released on Police bond, the file was still open. He adds that they are carrying out further investigations as they have useful leads that they are following. Once complete, they will send the file back to RSA for perusal. “We are calling for patience for now and want anybody with evidence that can help us build the case to volunteer,” Elilu adds.
Atwine disputes the events, maintaining her innocence. She has since gone back to Mbarara. Atwine says she can never kill her man. “We had great plans together,” she adds. Asked why she blocked Ochabal’s relatives from accessing his property even though she was his live-in girlfriend, she says Ochabal was her man.