Murder suspect Mathew Kanyamunyu returns to court on Tuesday (October 20) for the resumption of his trial for the alleged murder of child rights activist, Kenneth Akena. The trial resumes a month after Kanyamunyu admitted to the murder before Acholi cultural leaders in a traditional ceremony known as Mato Oput. Following his admission before the Acholi elders, will Kanyamunyu change his plea from not guilty to guilty and opt for plea bargaining? URN’s Judith Kukunda interrogated the different options.
Mathew is jointly charged with his Burundian girlfriend Cynthia Munangwari and his brother Joseph Kanyamunyu for allegedly shooting Akena to death. This was on November 12, 2016, along Kampala-Jinja High Way near Malik Car bond, opposite the main gate of Uganda Manufacturers Association in Lugogo, Nakawa division.
Mathew, the prime suspect, last month travelled to Gulu and met the Acholi cultural leaders to seek forgiveness for the murder under the traditional Acholi justice system; Mato Oput which means “to drink a bitter portion made from the leaves of the ‘oput’ tree”.
It is one of the mechanisms for forgiveness and reconciliation among the Acholi in Northern Uganda.
Once there, Mathew reportedly admitted to killing the deceased and was asked to pay ten cows and three goats by the Acholi elders despite having previously entered a not guilty plea before the High Court trial judge, Stephen Mubiru.
As his long-awaited trial resumes on October 20, the public awaits to see the turn this case is going to take much some lawyers have opined that his confession before the Acholi elders does not stand in law.
According to Andrew Mumpenje, a Kampala based lawyer, what happened in Acholi under the Mato Oput is not recognized under the law and cannot be cited in courts as a confession. Mumpenje argues that it would have been different if Mathew had opted for plea bargaining where an accused appears to court and formally informs a judicial officer that he is accepting liability and commission of the offense such that the state can give them a lesser sentence.
He however says that the developments from Gulu pose a challenge to the trial Judge who could have read the news about it much as he is legally not expected to rely on media reports to in deciding the case.
“Chances are high that the Judge’s mind and mentality has already been polluted to believe that [Mathew] Kanyamunyu is a killer; even if the evidence by the prosecution is too little and too weak to warrant a conviction because the Judge read papers and saw him, even though he doesn’t cite Mato Oput,” said Mumpenje.
“Imagine you are in Justice Mubiru’s shoes and then you make a decision acquitting Kanyamunyu when the whole world saw him confessing at a Mato Oput ceremony! Because of the public outcry, it may force a Judge to make a decision he wouldn’t have made hadn’t Kanyamunyu gone for the Mato Oput,” he added.
Francis Harimwomugasho, the former secretary-general of Uganda Law Society argues that by appearing before the Acholi elders, Mathew did not plead guilty but only cleansed some evil spirits.
To Harimwomugasho, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) still has the burden to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mathew participated in the Akena killing. In February 2020 at the trial was adjourned, the prosecution had presented 13 witnesses to testify against the suspects.
Another lawyer Ramathan Waiswa expects that if at all Mathew is convicted, he may ask for a lenient sentence and bring out the circumstances of Mato OPut as one of the grounds to seek a lenient sentence.
Waiswa says that he doesn’t see the trial going on up to the end but he suspects that Mathew has to either opt for a plea bargaining or change his plea and plead guilty.
Should Mathew change his plead, the lawyers argued, his co-accused may also all accept to participating in the crime.
One of Kanyamunyu’s lawyers Evans Ochieng told URN that ever since he went for the Mato Oput they had not yet met with him to discuss, the way forward but he expects that they will meet before court resumes.