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FINAL VERDICT: Supreme Court upholds 18 year jail sentence for Ssebuwufu

FILE PHOTO URN: Businessman Muhammed Ssebuwufu

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Supreme Court has upheld an 18-year jail term for Muhammed Ssebuwufu, the proprietor of Pine Car Bond for the murder of Betty Dona Katusabe about eight years ago. In a unanimous decision delivered on Wednesday, a panel of five Supreme Court Justices – Faith Mwondha, Professor Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza, Percy Night Tuhaise, Mike Chibita, and Stephen Musota – found no reason to alter the sentences handed to Sebuwufu and three others by the Court of Appeal in connection with the aforementioned murder.

In 2019, then Lady Justice Flavia Anglin Ssenoga convicted Ssebuwufu, along with Godfrey Kayiza (alias Godi), Phillip Mirembe, Paul Tasingika, Yoweri Kitayimbwa, Damasseni Ssentongo, Shaban Odutu (alias Golola), and Stephen Lwanga, who received a 7-year sentence for being an accessory after the offense. The group was found guilty of kidnapping Katusabe from her home in Bwebajja along Entebbe Road on October 21, 2015, and transporting her to Pine Car Bond along Lumumba Avenue in Kampala where they subjected her to torture using sharp objects.

Katusabe had reportedly failed to pay a balance of Shillings 9 million for a vehicle she had purchased from Ssebuwufu’s bond, valued at 17 million Shillings. The convicts also stole Katusabe’s sim cards and a mobile phone worth 300,000 Shillings. As a result, Justice Ssenoga sentenced them to serve concurrent punishments ranging from 20 to 40 years for three offenses: kidnap with intent to murder, murder, and aggravated robbery. Ssenoga also ordered them to compensate Katusabe’s family with 100 million Shillings for their loss.

However, all the convicts, except Stephen Lwanga, appealed against the sentence. In 2021, Court of Appeal Justices Fredrick Egonda-Ntende, Catherine Bamugemereire, and Christopher Izama Madrama (now promoted to the Supreme Court) found the sentences to be harsh and excessive. They reduced the years of punishment for each convict, with Sebuwufu receiving an 18-year term, and the others receiving 16 years plus additional months ranging from five to eleven months.

Despite this reduction, the convicts were still dissatisfied with the Court of Appeal’s decision. Sebuwufu argued that the Court of Appeal justices had erred in upholding his murder conviction without proof of malice aforethought and his participation. The group also criticized the Court of Appeal for confirming a 100-million-shilling compensation order without justification and for overlooking mitigating factors such as their time spent on remand.

However, the Prosecution urged the Court to dismiss the appeal, stating that the convicts were duly charged and convicted for their heinous crimes, with no valid defense. In their decision on Wednesday, the final Appellate Court Justices indicated that, based on the nature of Katusabe’s injuries, there was no doubt that she was maliciously killed by Sebuwufu and the others. They affirmed that Sebuwufu was at the crime scene, and Katusabe’s arrest was linked to him.

She was also kept at his office, where she was fatally assaulted, and at some point, he participated in her beating. Regarding compensation, the Supreme Court clarified that when an order for compensation is accompanied by the words “to be paid jointly and severally,” each individual against whom the order is made is responsible for paying the entire awarded amount. If one party is unable to pay, the others must cover more than their share. In this case, each of the convicts is liable for the entire sum.

“We do not find any reason to interfere with the above sentences passed by the Court of Appeal. Though the Court of Appeal in considering mitigating factors and aggravated factors it somehow made it in an omnibus way. For A1 he was the owner of the yard and he was present, he was an older person, and the Court found him to be a first offender. But we find that omission to specify could not cause this Court to interfere with the finding as the Court has exercised its duty as it was required under the law. We find that there was no miscarriage of justice,” said the Justices as they confirmed the respective jail terms.

The Supreme Court’s decision is final.