OVER time, the High Court has decided on a number of high profile cases, some of them involving murders of public figures. In a series, Saturday Vision looks back at some of the attention-grabbing cases that have visited the court room.
By Chris Kiwawulo
The day, June 9, 1981, was just breaking. Edidian Luttamaguzi was relaxing in his house, oblivious of what was happening outside. He was later to learn that over 1,000 soldiers had besieged his village. Their mission was to crack down on collaborators of Yoweri Museveniâ€™s National Resistance Army (NRA) guerillas.
Hajji Musa Sebirumbi, the chairman of the ruling Uganda Peopleâ€™s Congress (UPC) in Luwero south constituency, guided soldiers through the Kikandwa village, Semuto, in Luwero district. They were identifying the suspected NRA collaborators. Luttamaguzi was dragged out of his house and later killed in a futile attempt to make him disclose information about the guerillas.
After the Milton Oboteâ€™s UPC regime was toppled, Luttamaguziâ€™s relatives filed a case, accusing Sebirumbi of killing their kin. On February 20, 1987, about a year after Museveni came to power, Sebirumbi was arrested and charged with murder.
Sebirumbi was also charged with killing of several other people alongside Luttamaguzi.
The state lined up 10 witnesses. One of them said Sebirumbi entered Luttamaguziâ€™s house in the company of six soldiers. That he was carrying a coffee stem and that he later cut Luttamaguziâ€™s head with a panga. Another witness, however, said Sebirumbi used a gun to kill Luttamaguzi.
Olwal Ogwal noted that although postmortems were carried out seven years after the deaths and that some bones got lost when the bodies were exhumed, the deaths occurred in the manner described by the witnesses.
Sebirumbi denied the charges, saying on the date he was alleged to have killed Luttamaguzi, he was in Kampala and not in Luwero. That he went to Mulago Hospital after he was injured by a grenade on William Street on May 4, 1981 and then checked into Apolo Hotel (now Sheraton Hotel) on the same day. He, however, could not produce the medical form or hotel receipt. This prompted the state attorney to say Sebirumbi was not the kind of man to be believed on the basis of what he said, without documentary evidence.
Sebirumbiâ€™s lawyer, Edward Elue, asked court to acquit his client, saying prosecution had â€œmiserably failedâ€ to prove that Sebirumbi murdered Luttamaguzi. The lawyer submitted that there was considerable doubt as to whether Sebirumbi was seen at the scene of murder on the fateful day.
Elue argued that state witnesses gave contradictory evidence. Whereas some witnesses said Sebirumbi wore a red T-shirt on that day, others called it a red sweater. Some said Sebirumbi cut Luttamaguzi using a panga while others said he used a gun.
He added that despite Sebirumbiâ€™s testimony that he was on crutches after being hit by a grenade, the witnesses claimed that they saw him walking normally.
He also questioned the timing of Sebirumbiâ€™s arrest, wondering why he was arrested only when he was preparing to contest for leadership of the Muslim community in Uganda.
But on April 3, 1989, assessors; Abasali Kiiza and Mubiru Zirimu advised that these contradictions were too minor to let Sebirumbi off the hook. They said Sebirumbi was well-known to the witnesses who observed properly what was happening on the fateful day. â€œThe accused was positively identified. The contradictions were minor and were due to a lapse of time and of human nature. I therefore advise your lordship to convict him as charged,â€ Kiiza stated.
Zirimu added to his colleagueâ€™s voice: â€œThe accused has told lies to this court. His allegations prove nothing but guilty conscience. I therefore advise you to convict him as charged.â€
During one of the hearings on March 20, 1989, Sebirumbi fainted in court. He rushed out of the dock, collapsed on the floor and began panting. The prison warders quickly removed his shirt, loosened his trousers and laid him on the floor.
On inquiring, Justice Alikipo Ouma learnt that Sebirumbi had high blood pressure. The prison warders brought a tumbler full of water and Sebirumbi swallowed his tablets. The judge ordered the warders to take him to a doctor and report to court when he gets better.
On April 18, 1989, Justice Ouma sentenced Sebirumbi to death after finding him guilty of five counts of murder. Ouma told a fully-packed court that the state called 10 witnesses and produced five exhibits to prove its case. He said the deaths were proved beyond reasonable doubt, postmortems were carried out and witnesses had identified Sebirumbi. He said there was enough evidence that on the fateful day Sebirumbi was in Kikandwa and not Kampala as he claimed. Justice Ouma said witnesses testified that Sebirumbi was on the fateful day seen in Kikandwa village at 6:00am with six soldiers in a Land Rover. That he was dressed in a red T-shirt and trousers. The judge said the witnessesâ€™ evidence was not fabricated but corroborative.
â€œThe witnesses said he (Sebirumbi) entered Luttamaguziâ€™s house, looked for him and dragged him out, hitting him on the head with a coffee stem and took him to one, Kineneâ€™s house. Sebirumbi later cut Luttamaguzi on the back of the head using a panga,â€ the judge stated.
Ouma further said the accused was well known in the area and so there was no chance that the witnesses mistook someone else for him. There was ample time to see him properly, Ouma said, since the incident happened in broad day light. The judge added that a key witness, only identified as Kanyike, testified that he was only a few meters away from the accused at the time of the murder.
The judge also said the discrepancies in the witnessesâ€™ evidence were minor as weighed against the whole evidence. The judge said T-shirts and sweaters look alike and in any case, identification of the person is more important and does not just depend on dressing. About whether he used a gun or panga, the judge stated that Sebirumbi may have had both weapons and left one of them in the vehicle.
On the delayed arrest of Sebirumbi, Ouma said it would have been unfair to arrest him and keep him on remand while looking for witnesses who were then scattered.
The judge said Sebirumbi contradicted himself by saying the grenade attack made him unconscious for nine hours, during which time he was operated upon; yet later he stated that after 30 minutes of the explosion, he was visited by Asafu Sembogga and one Kiggwe in hospital. The judge also doubted Sebirumbiâ€™s claim that he heard about Luttamaguziâ€™s death on BBC using a radio receiver that his daughter had brought to hospital from home. â€œI cannot imagine that the accused sent his daughter to collect a radio from home (in Kikandwa, Luwero) from which radio he claims to have heard a BBC broadcast saying that the Uganda Freedom Movement had attacked him,â€ Ouma pointed out.
He further said Sebirumbiâ€™s claim of having been in Mulago and Apolo Hotel on the fateful day was contradictory because he said his medical forms and hotel bills were destroyed and then contradicting himself by saying the documents were taken by intelligence operatives.
Ouma said Sebirumbi could not even recall when he got the said crutches he was purportedly using after the grenade attack. The judge said both Apolo Hotel and Mulago Hospital were checked but there were no records to show that Sebirumbi was in those facilities on the day Luttamaguzi was killed.
Ouma concluded that Sebirumbiâ€™s evidence had overwhelming contradictions and should be rejected since it pointed to untruthfulness.
Upon passing the judgement, prison warders handcuffed Sebirumbi and whisked him off to Luzira maximum prison. Outside the courtroom, Sebirumbiâ€™s relatives broke into tears while those of Luttamaguzi cheered. Sebirumbi was executed on April 27, 1999 along with 27 others after spending 10 years on death row.
Highlights of Sebirumbi trial
Hanged for killing Luttamaguzi