Justice Delayed is indeed Justice Denied -OPINION

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By Gyagenda Semakula Zikusooka

It is six years now and this one murder case, described by the prosecution as a public interest case is not yet resolved. The public has been convinced and made to believe that this case is so unique and exceptional in nature that it even has a “voluntary self-confessed” suspect to it. There are several social media posts referring to the accused person as a confessed murderer. His trial, conviction and sentence have all been done and handed to him by social media and not the laws of Uganda.

However, some sober minded Ugandans have perennially asked why the law (state) did not or better still has not yet convicted this culprit. What has the state been telling the victim’s family for all these years? The country needs justice, Desire Mirembe (RIP) needs justice and Matthew Kirabo needs justice.

Lady Justice Eva Luswata while hearing the bail application on December 9, 2016 said, “…I know you are hurting because you lost a child. They are also hurting because their son is implicated in this crime. So, allow us as court to be fair and to do justice…because as we go into things which are wasting a lot of time, justice will be delayed.” This is the kind of sobriety of justice that our country’s criminal justice system should demonstrate. The judicial officer did not want to see justice delayed at any cost. She was concerned that Emmanuel Musoke (Desire’s father) had all of a sudden shown disinterest in the ongoing hearing of the bail application. This was so because his lawyer had written to the Principal Judge a day before requesting to transfer the case from Jinja to Mukono. This sounds so reasonable and judicious indeed! However, this move was a deliberate ploy intended to subject the suspect to a longer remand period and hence delay justice. Remember, Matthew had been on remand for a whopping 16 months with a supposed video confession as prosecution’s most valued piece of evidence.

It stunned the judge that Musoke’s lawyer who was present in court on a watching brief had ironically done so when both the prosecution and the defence weren’t aware of his watching brief. Surprise indeed! This family lawyer ought to have discussed with the prosecution and officially notified court about his watching brief. He didn’t do it. These unusual occurrences in such a public interest case premised on a supposed confession are what we need to probe into and try to find out why this case has never been concluded yet it looks so obvious. Prosecution tendered an indictment on the 30th November 2015 and the case file was forwarded to the High Court for trial as the investigations were said to be over. This was record speed. Just four months and investigations are concluded, wow! Matthew was then supposed to be committed to High Court as early as November 2015 and this should have impressed the victim’s family. There was a semblance of justice being done.

High Court cause-listed a total of 40 accused persons for different criminal offences. Matthew Kirabo’s name appears as number 40 on this list which is dated 20th October 2016, cause-listing the accused persons for Criminal Sessions of 14th November to 14th December 2016 at Jinja High Court. On this same day (November 14) when the Criminal Sessions at Jinja Court were scheduled to commence, the DPP Jinja Regional Office wrote to the Resident Judge requesting that Matthew Kirabo and two other cause-listed accused persons be transferred to Mukono. Matthew’s case was scheduled for four consecutive days but the prosecution frustrated it by refusing to prosecute and instead sought to have it unnecessarily transferred to Mukono where it has since been shelved. Prosecution’s reasoning was that all their witnesses were residents in and around Mukono and for convenience purposes, the cases of Mukono should be heard under this jurisdiction.

In a turn of events, Gashumba and his cohorts have taken to social media to demonize Justice Luswata and former Principal Judge Bamwine for frustrating Desire’s case and failing justice. It is not true. The country needs to know that Eva was willing, ready and competent to hear the main suit but there was pressure to have this case transferred and not be heard in Jinja. On the 24th of November 2016, PJ Bamwine wrote to her referring to a letter he had received from the Jinja Regional DPP’s office ten days earlier requesting that Matthew Kirabo’s case be transferred to Mukono. This was the same period that Matthew was cause-listed for the ongoing sessions at Jinja. Bamwine in his written response did not object to this proposal. As a judicious and an avowed human rights advocate, Eva would not be let to handle the main suit. She insisted on hearing the bail application which was underway and her ruling is just sweet to read. Later of course, the case had to be transferred to Mukono as requested. It wouldn’t be sensible to blame Eva Luswata and Bamwine for this delayed justice.

In justifying the transfer of the case to Mukono, prosecution also reasoned that Kirabo’s case was of public interest and had attracted a lot of media coverage, had documentary evidence, electronic evidence and physical exhibits that they were ready to tender in court. This clearly tells that the state was not ready to prosecute the case because of the indecencies in obtaining evidence by the investigative function of the Police which have in turn greatly tainted the functioning of the court. The supposed confession of Matthew violates all the rules of recording confessions passed by the Supreme Court of Uganda. This explains why Gashumba’s gemstone of a video confession has not resolved the matter. And how can a confession without a charge and caution statement suffice? How would court even entertain a confession when there is no charge and caution? What the prosecution is holding onto as such was neither acknowledged nor signed by the accused Kirabo. During the recent court proceedings at cross examination, Kirabo’s lawyer asked prosecution to show the judge a copy of the charge and caution and the state prosecutor refused. She knows that this is an illegal confession. Emphasis; prosecution refused to show court this unsigned charge and caution statement.

When Desire went missing, her mother Cindy Julie Buccacio who lives in Wakefield, Massachusetts USA, in her statement of July 22, 2015 at CPS, records that “…on the fateful day, I had a Viber text message conversation with my daughter, who told me she, was traveling to Jinja that night. About an hour later, I got another message from Desire saying she had gone to meet her boyfriend in Jinja but she bounced because her boyfriend had gone to Church for an overnight and that she (Desire) was with another friend who was counseling her in the car and that it was night and she was alone with this friend and scared.” She further stated that her daughter’s phone was switched off and all efforts to reach her were futile. Cindy got worried and contacted Desire’s brother Jonathan, uncle David and also emailed her husband Emmanuel asking them to find out what could have happened to Desire and report to police. A day later, she received a message that her daughter had been murdered and dumped in Kawolo. What a painful experience for a mother!

Gleaning on Cindy’s statement of this other friend who was counseling Desire on that fateful night, Matthew’s lawyer wrote to the DPP on August 12, 2015 requesting and proposing to prosecution to follow other probable leads in this grisly murder and investigate all known former boyfriends; Brian, Kakuru, Davis, Elvis, Joshua and Paul. The Police wasted very valuable time without following these leads that would have been so helpful in these investigations.

Matthew was called by a one Afande Chris to report to Central Police Station in Kampala on July 14, 2015 and while on his way from Bugiri, the same officer called again and told him that the missing person they were looking for had been found dead and her body had been identified by family members and was in Kawolo Hospital mortuary. The bad news of the death of Desire Mirembe Jemimah was reported to Kirabo by this officer at CPS. Kirabo reiterated that he would stop and branch off to the hospital where Desire’s family members were. The Afande told him not to but to continue to Kampala. He obliged.

He got to CPS that evening and indeed met the Afande. The unsuspecting Kirabo who was tired and emotionally broken was just advised to go home and rest because it was already late and they couldn’t do much. Matthew decided to go to slain Desire’s home for vigil that night and the officer again advised him against it and maintained that he should instead go to his home and returns the following morning to police. Matthew heeded to the every piece of advice. He returned the following day and that was when hell broke loose on him. He was told he is a lone suspect in this horrid murder and was detained. The once very composed and levelheaded officer had now turned harsh and bizarre.

Matthew was immediately thrown into cells before getting him out to record his first statement. He was made to record four different statements while at CPS and none of these is attached to his file. The only statement on file is the one extracted by torture at Nalufenya on the 29th of July. Another very strange occurrence is in the lock up register book at Nalufenya. It is so peculiar that it is only Matthew Kirabo’s name that was entered and recorded in this register without an offence against it in a long list of suspects. Every other name in that register book has an offence written against it. How could they have forgotten this yet Matthew had been detained at CPS for nine days on allegations of murder? The Nalufenya operatives remembered to charge Matthew for murder on the 29th July after several days of torture before arraigning him in court on 30th July to be remanded.

He was then remanded until December 2016. When he finally secured his bail, he respectfully and dutifully honored his bail obligations and responsibilities and endeavored to report to court in Mukono regularly. He did this under very difficult situations as a final year medical student and braving journeys that were dangerous for him as the press and social media had unfortunately branded and portrayed him as a murderer. The aggrieved relatives of slain Desire Mirembe who saw him at court regularly reporting for bail were also dangerously hostile to him. This is why on December 14, 2017, his lawyer wrote to the DPP demanding for setting the case for trial or considering dropping it all together because the matter had stalled for 29 months since July 2015. There were also no disclosures of evidence by the prosecution for all this time. This is another legal flaw which speaks volumes about the obvious weakness of the case against Matthew.

Bukedde ku Sande of November 21, 2021 carried a Luganda opinion on how the unsolved murder of Desire Mirembe has exposed the judiciary. The reporter quotes Emmanuel Musoke as saying that justice for his deceased daughter was a sheer trade of just 150 million shillings which Matthew’s sureties paid to court for jumping bail. According to him, Matthew has bought his justice this cheaply. Of course this is not true. But, let us enter the money episode. My investigations led me to a letter asking Matthew for some *very hefty compensation.*

Desire’s father Emmanuel Musoke and an NGO; Centre for Women’s Justice through a Kampala-based law firm wrote to Matthew Kirabo a letter referenced as *nmk/2021/11, dated May 17th, 2021 asking him to pay one billion shillings (1,000,000,000shs)* to the family for the compensation of the death of Mirembe. Forget the 150m bail money paid to court. The other requests in their letter were; a written apology to the family and friends, instituting a civil suit against Kirabo for this apology and at the same time enter a plea of guilt. I said it earlier that this is indeed a strange case. The victim’s family is writing to a “supposed confessed murderer” of their beloved daughter asking for a billion shillings as compensation, apologize to them and enter a plea of guilt and also have a civil suit instituted against the same murderer. This case was uniquely scripted and tailored from the onset. The recent social media outbursts and the demand for Desire’s justice lessen in honesty at the revelation of these facts and details. Family anchorman Gashumba should come out and explain to his followers and adherents how on earth this can be. Asking for compensation from a supposed killer of your child. Unthinkable! We should come to justice with honesty and clean hands and not riding on people’s emotions because of personal vendetta and selfish intentions.

The public has also been told that Matthew and Desire had had a souring relationship and fell out. Pastor Mbuga testified in court (what defence called lies) that the accused had paid money to hostel guards to watch over Desire who was seeking refuge far away from him. He was responding to the defence’s interrogation about his incessant interactions and relationship with the deceased. It should also be known that Desire’s father has repeatedly confessed in his interviews that he has no knowledge of Matthew as his daughter’s boyfriend. He denied ever seeing or talking to him. This also sounds true but phone printouts evidently show that they were actually talking. One of their last calls was recorded on the night of 20th June 2015. Musoke knew Matthew and they were talking to each other. We don’t need enchanters to prove us on this. Technology debunked his lies.

Since Desire’s murder in July 2015, the country has witnessed very dreadful, shocking and awful murders that attracted public attention and debate. Suspects were apprehended, investigations were conducted and concluded, and convictions were handed to perpetrators. Except for the case of Kanyamunyu in November 2016 that was not syndicated and collaborated by multiple culprits, cases like the murder of Donna Katushabe in October 2015, Suzan Magara in February 2018, and the double murder of Maria Naggirinya and her driver Ronald Kitayimbwa in August 2019, the state made several arrests of suspects, collaborated evidences, conducted investigations, tried suspects and concluded these cases. What is so special with this lone suspect murder case that has not been resolved for years?

The legal maxim, justice delayed is justice denied, simply denotes that if legal redress to an injured party or victim is available, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion; it is effectively the same as having no justice at all. I guess this is the feeling that the family and friends of late Desire Mirembe bear. They lost a dear one in July 2015 and several years later, her real killers have never been apprehended. How about imputing the same legal principle to Matthew Kirabo, whose accusation and indictment as the lone suspect in this murder is a conspicuous hoax and an awfully stage-managed drama that has haunted him for the same amount of time? Isn’t his justice also delayed and eventually denied?

Justice bought is valueless. One family lost a child and the other family has a child implicated in the crime. None of them should buy their justice. It should instead be done justly and fairly to both of them. If I knew where Kirabo Matthew is, I would volunteer to champion his exoneration and freedom and ask the State to find Desire’s real killers. Scapegoating doesn’t serve justice. The latest I heard is that the state does not have money to prosecute this case. Shelved once again until further notice! Indeed, Justice delayed is justice denied!

The writer is an Investigative Journalist.

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