Ugandan schoolboy Tumusiime Henry was 15 when he was accused of murder the first time. While he waited almost two years for the trial to begin he was accused of a second murder. But then he met an American lawyer who slowly realized it was up to him to come to the rescue of an innocent teenager. – BBC
At the age of 15, Henry was arrested from school alongside his brother, father and mother who was later released. The family was accused of the murder of their long time herdsman who had made away with their savings. They had engaged in all sorts of menial jobs in order to come up with the stolen money with the “hope that Henry, always top of his class, would be the first in the family to go to university”. Reports say the man in question was caught and mobbed by the villagers.
Henry and his brother were in school at the time of this unrest but their father who was there present lost out in his attempt to avert the jungle justice. Regardless of this, the entire family was arrested after Henry’s father had buried the herdsman in his farm as a commemoration of the past working relationship with the man.
The teenage brothers, subjected to starvation and hard labor spent two months in the adult jail in Hioma. Later they were transferred to the juvenile section where the surviving conditions were no different. Just like the biblical story of Joseph, Henry was appointed the new “prime minister” of the juvenile correctional – this eased his stress and guaranteed him frequent unrestricted visits to his brother, Joseph.
While in prison Henry was accused of murder for a second time – a new sick inmate, Innocent, who was severally maltreated on orders from the matron, Rose Mpairwe had died. This is one of the sordid details that go on in an institution that should be a juvenile correctional. Both Henry and the Matron were to answer for that in court since both were supposed to be in charge of the welfare of the inmates.
Clocking to Eighteen months since detention, Henry had given up on any hopes of leaving the prison.
“I told my mum not to come and visit me again… because I had really lost hope by that time.”
In 2010, some American lawyers in partnership with Ugandan Judiciary came into Ihungu, the location of the juvenile correctional, for a week’s program. Who knew that it will be the beginning of a long-term journey for legal transformation in Uganda. Jim Gash, a lawyer and a University of Pepperdine Professor in California was among the foreign legal team.
“When I walked in I was just shocked and emotionally shaken because there is no electricity, no running water, no beds – there were just thin mats on the floor, with slits in the upper part of the wall [for ventilation] with no mosquito nets, and the kids were just in a hopeless state of disrepair clothing-wise,” – Jim Gsah
Prior to his meeting with Henry, the supposed “notorious” Ugandan schoolboy facing 2 murder charges, Jim was absolutely disappointed with what he found. Once again the 2 brothers were singled out to play intermediary roles between the lawyer and the juvenile inmates. The American team split into 2 and the 2 brothers became interpreters, one for each team – Henry who could speak 5 languages could not qualify any better to work with Jim.
Jim started off with interviewing the inmates, some of whom were not even aware of their crimes; and subsequently secured trial for them. His efforts paid off as Henry’s first murder charge was dismissed but unlike his father, brother and 17 other inmates, he had to stay back to face the second murder trial of his co-inmate, saying;
In Uganda they arrest first and then they investigate later.
As a deceitful ploy on Henry, both accused persons – Henry shared the same lawyer with the matron and that did not obviously turn out so well. Eventually both parties were found guilty with the matron facing a 10-year sentence, while Henry stood the risk of facing a death sentence once the doctors certify that he was up to 18-years.
On getting word of the development, Jim who had earlier returned home, took the next available flight back to Uganda to rescue Henry and implement changes in Uganda’s judicial system. BBC reports that:
In 2005 the constitutional court of Uganda also ruled that long delays in carrying out executions amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, so now any prisoners held on death row for three years have their sentences commuted to life.
Based on the above Henry who has spent approximately 2 years in prison was sentenced to 1-year probation and also immediately released. In 2014, Henry gained admission into the university in Kampala; and in 2015, Jim received a verdict copy via email, stating that Henry has been unfairly treated and as such will not be needing a retrial, in other words, Henry is a free man; all thanks to Prof. Jim and his Ugandan Colleague, Edward Sekabanja.
Many Africans have suffered this fate and sometimes even worse. It is by a stroke of luck that Henry’s case finally had a happy ending. Some never get to meet a ‘Jim’ to their rescue. On a bright side we can say that fate specially designed it that this Ugandan Schoolboy case will bring about the the positive turn around in Uganda’s legal system.