Martha Nkwanzi, a daughter to the late businessman Henry Katanga has been remanded to Luzira prison for allegedly destroying evidence in the murder of her father.
Nkwanzi surprisingly surrendered herself to Nakawa chief magistrate, Erias Kakooza on Wednesday afternoon. The same court on Monday issued a warrant of arrest against her after she was again a no-show in court.
During the court session on Monday, the defense team, represented by McDusman Kabega, along with lawyers; Bruce Musinguzi and Jet Tumwebaze, stated that Nkwanzi is recuperating at Roswell Hospital following a childbirth.
The prosecution, however, challenged the information presented, labelling it hearsay, and maintained the necessity of a warrant for Nkwanzi’s arrest citing repeated failure to appear in court without justifiable reasons.
Court heard that on November 2, 2023, at Mubya Chwa II, Nakawa Division, Kampala city, knowing that diverse things at the scene of crime may be required in evidence in a judicial proceeding, Nkwanzi and her other sister Patricia Kankwanzi removed or destroyed them or rendered them illegible or undecipherable or incapable of identification with intent thereby to prevent them from being used in evidence.
The two daughters are jointly charged with their mother Molly Katanga who is reportedly admitted for injuries she allegedly sustained during the incident. Molly remains on criminal summons issued by the court requiring her to appear on January 22 to answer for her husband’s murder.
The three family members are further indicted alongside the family’s shamba boy, George Amanyire and a medical practitioner, Charles Otai. Both men are charged with being accessories after the commission of murder when they allegedly assisted the widow and her two daughters to escape punishment yet they knew the trio were liable for an offence.
Nkwazi through her legal team asked the court to allow her to take a plea in the charge. But that sparked off a lengthy argument after the prosecution side objected it. On Wednesday, amidst lengthy court proceedings, the prosecution led by state attorney Jonathan Muwaganya and Anna Kiiza objected to Nkwanzi taking plea, forcing court to take a break and resume later on.
Muwaganya objected on grounds that Nkwanzi appears on the same charge sheet where the first suspect is charged with murder which can only be tried by the High court. Muwaganya said plea-taking is a trial process where only a court with competent jurisdiction to try the matter can entertain the plea of the accused person.
He asked the court to only communicate to the accused person the charges against her. Nkwanzi’s lawyers comprising McDusman Kabega, Ellison Karuhanga, and Bruce Musinguzi said that two days ago, the prosecution applied that their client be arrested to appear in court to take plea and prayed for a warrant of arrest hence there is no way they can start saying she shouldn’t answer to the charges when she has even brought herself to court.
Kabega said the offence the court read to her prescribes the sentence not of life nor death, and therefore it is a misdemeanour that attracts seven years imprisonment once found guilty. As such, Kabega added that under Section 161 (1) of the Magistrates Court Act states that the court presided over by the chief magistrate which Kakooza is, may try the accused person unless the sentence attracts death, provided it’s for a custodial sentence.
Kabega thus insisted that Nkwanzi takes plea for the offence. According to Kabega, the fact that she is on a charge sheet where the first suspect is charged with murder doesn’t in any way allow Nakawa Magistrates court jurisdiction to run away from trying this offence.
He added that the prosecution has not provided court with any provisions of law where an accused person can be stopped from taking plea where the court has jurisdiction. To support his case, Kabega submitted that the other suspects on remand took plea before the same presiding magistrate, and that the prosecutors who are the very people who framed the charges were in court didn’t complain.
But prosecutor Muwaganya insisted on his stand, saying the law stated by Kabega doesn’t address the question of several accused persons appearing on the same charge sheet with a mixture of capital and non-capital counts. Muwaganya said in this case, there is no explicit legal provision in the Magistrates Court Act that empowers the Magistrate’s court to entertain plea in one count on a charge sheet bearing a capital offence.
He added that even this case has been registered in the capital offences register of court and given a capital offence number which all indicate that he has no jurisdiction over the matter. The prosecutor said the guidance of the High court in several cases has been that where offences are capital and others not capital, the jurisdiction of the gravest offence takes precedent over the other misdemeanours.
According to Muwaganya, whereas plea was taken for the other accused persons, that exercise is subject to revision in the High court and the gist is to correct the exercise of plea-taking. He explained that as that matter is still pending in the High court, it is only right and proper and prudent that they await the guidance of the High court before court can determine whether or not to ask the accused person to take plea.
After a 2-hour break, Kakooza ruled that the court has jurisdiction to take plea. He said when other accused persons were arraigned before him, they took plea and the prosecution didn’t contest it. As a result, Nkwanzi took plea and denied the charges against her.
Later, Kabega applied for bond saying the law provides that a person can be released on bond even without sureties, saying she is a mother of three children including a one-month-old, born shortly after the death of Katanga. On this, Kakooza said there is need to be consistent and since he has already been informed that the hearing of the criminal revision application by the DPP has already been fixed for Tuesday next week for hearing, it is proper for the outcome before he can go ahead with hearing the bail application for Nkwanzi.
Now Nkwanzi joins Kakwanza, Amanyire and Otai on remand at Luzira prison as the widow Molly Katanga remains issued with criminal summons requiring her to appear in court on January 22, 2024, for last November’s murder of her husband Katanga. All the accused persons are expected to return to court on that day.
Both the accused persons and the complainants in this case are well-connected to powerful people in the government. The families on Tuesday night reportedly met the president at State House who assured them that justice will be served in this case.