The swift guilty plea and sentencing of police officer corporal David Ssali for the murder of Ronald Ssebulime in 2019 seem to have delivered more confusion than justice as the deceased's relatives insist that Kayunga Woman MP Aidah Nantaba should also have been charged.
Nantaba on the other hand, is also unhappy over Ssali's guilty plea and the hasty court decision, saying it was meant to protect who she called the real murderers who gave Ssali the order to execute the victim who was handcuffed and already lying on the ground.
Ssebulime was extrajudicially executed by police patrol vehicle commander, corporal Ssali on March 24, 2019, when he received a phone call and announced to his men that the "order has changed", then proceeding to drag the handcuffed Ssebulime from the police truck, throw him on the ground and shoot him point-blank, killing him instantly.
Nantaba, who was then minister of state in charge of ICT kept insisting that police should simply look through Ssali's phone log to know who ordered Ssebulime's extra-judicial execution, but somehow this did not form part of the state's evidence.
She also said the prosecution did not appear concerned about the motive of murdering a subdued subject who was already in police hands and handcuffed.
The family of Ssebulime led by his sister Sylvia Nakayita is still baying for Nantaba's head, and have expressed dissatisfaction with the Mukono High court’s ruling on convicting Ssali for murdering their loved one, who left behind two children orphans and helpless.
According to them, Nantaba should have as well been arraigned and sentenced in court alongside Ssali because of her false call (when she called police to complain that Ssebulime was trailing her with intentions of assassinating her) was the cause of her Ssebulime's death.
“The years awarded to Cpl. David Ssali are not enough considering what he did to my brother, and Nantaba should as well be charged because she is the one who gave out false information against my brother which led to his death.” Nakayita says.
But Nantaba always insisted that she is the one person who most needed Ssebulime alive so that he could tell her who had sent him to trail her and wanted her dead. Mukono High court judge, Justice Henry Kaweesa Isabirye yesterday Monday, October 18 sentenced Ssali to 20 years in prison.
The matter was still before the court for further cross-examination of state witnesses but took a twist when Ssali’s lawyer Richard Kumbuga alerted justice Kaweesa that he was ready with an unsigned plea bargaining document from his client.
Justice Kaweesa asked him why he had not yet signed the document yet he (the judge) was even late to court. The judge then asked Ssali if he was coerced to plead guilty to which he answered that he was not and that he did it after noticing the overwhelming evidence against him by the state.
Plea bargaining is a judiciary process now encouraged in Uganda to help reduce the case backlog in courts. Usually, the accused person voluntarily pleads guilty to the charges in exchange for a lenient sentence if they were to be found guilty.
In Ssali's case, with the state having overwhelming evidence against him, he was likely to get the maximum sentence which would be the death penalty.
For saving court’s time, Ssali has been given 20 years in prison, something that doesn't sit right with the late Ssebulime’s family. But what is even more disconcerting is Nantaba who says her testimony would have exposed the real people who wanted to harm her.
Nantaba who was supposed to again appear in court today Tuesday 19 as a witness in the same trial told URN that she was surprised at the abrupt verdict and sentencing.
“I know they could not stand my testimony as I was going to bring out a lot which the mafias could not stand," she said.
"So they had him plead guilty before I could testify. Police modified the bike, changing the appearance of the exhibits. What was the motive? The state attorney did not want my evidence in court, including the recordings, they changed photos of the bike.”
Corporal Ssali has been on trial having been charged with the murder of Ssebulime. According to the state, in 2019, Ssali shot and killed Ssebulime who had been arrested for allegedly trailing Nantaba, at Nagojje trading center on a motorcycle on suspicion that he wanted to assassinate her.
It is alleged that Nantaba called the police who arrested and handcuffed him before Ssali shooting him dead on March 24, 2019. Ssali received a phone call apparently ordering him to execute Ssebulime, as he declared that the order had changed, before dragging the handcuffed man to the ground and shooting him point-blank.
Ssali was later arrested and arraigned at Mukono Magistrate's court where he was charged with murder. Ssembulime’s family then sued Nantaba and three other police constables namely; Edward Cherotich, Ronald Opira and Ronald Baganza for their involvement in the shooting of Ssebulime.
Nevertheless, the officer of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) advised the police to try the police constables in the police disciplinary unit instead since their commander, Ssali had confessed to the crime and a ballistic report proved that it was his gun that was used in the murder. DPP also withdrew the murder charges against Nantaba.
Ssali who was attached to Naggalama police station was charged before the Mukono grade one magistrate Mariam Nulugya in April 2019, and remanded to Luzira prison.
However, the rest of the police officers were never charged, forcing Ssebulime’s family to petition the court to institute a private prosecution against Nantaba and the three other officers as accomplices to the murder.