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Kanyamunyu Options; Will He Admit to Murder Charges?

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To Harimwomugasho, the DPP still has the burden of proof to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Kanyamunyu participated in the Akena killing. In February 2020 at the time of adjourning Kanyamunyu’s trial to the next convenient session, the prosecution had adduced evidence from 13 witnesses.
Kanyamunyu and his Burundian Girlfriend Cynthia Munangwari in Court . File Photo

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As the trial of murder suspect Mathew Kanyamunyu resumes next week on Tuesday 20th October, the question is whether he is going to change his plea from not-guilty or opt for plea bargaining.

Kanyamunyu is jointly charged with his Burundian girlfriend Cynthia Munangwari and his brother Joseph Kanyamunyu for allegedly shooting a children's rights activist Kenneth Akena to death. This was on November 12, 2016 along Kampala-Jinja High Way near Malik Car bond, opposite the main gate of Uganda Manufacturer’s Association in Lugogo Nakawa Division.  

  However, the prime suspect Mathew Kanyamunyu last month went for a traditional ritual commonly known as Mato Oput, an Acholi word that literally 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.  When he went there, Kanyamunyu reportedly admitted to killing the deceased and was asked to pay ten cows and three goats by the elders in Acholi.  Previously he pleaded not guilty before the trial Judge.

However, as his long awaited trial resumes on October 20 2020, some lawyers are of the view that his alleged confession does not stand in law. They suggest that he can either ask for plea bargain or change plea before the trial Judge, Stephen Mubiru of the High Court Criminal Division. 

City lawyer Andrew Mumpenje states that what happened in Acholi as Mato Oput is not regulated by the Judiciary. He says it would have been different if Kanyamunyu had opted for plea bargaining where an accused appears to court and formally informs the Judicial Officer accepting liability and commission of the offense such that the state can give them a lesser sentence. 

Mumpenje explains that this one can be done with the permission and guidance of court but Mato Oput cannot be cited in courts as a confession. 

However, Mumpenje says that Mato Oput poses a challenge to the trial Judge who could have read the news about it.  

  According to Mumpenje, although legally the Judge is not allowed to rely on in his decision, psychologically he has already known and registered Kanyamunyu as the person who killed Akena.

“Chances are high that the Judge's mind and mentality has already been polluted to believe that 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. 

  The lawyer says that Judges are also overwhelmed by the public outcry.

"Imagine you are in Justice Mubiru’s shoes and then you make a decision acquitting Kanyamunyu when the whole world saw him confessing in Mato Oput ceremony!" he wondered. 

  “Because of the public outcry, it may force a Judge to take a decision he wouldn't  made hadn't Kanyamunyu gone for the Mato Oput”, Mumpenje added, saying the traditional ceremony is more psychological than legal.

//Cue in:  “Chances are high…      

Cue out: …the Mat Oput”.// 

But the the former Secretary General of Uganda Law Society Francis Harimwomugasho says Mato Oput is not a confirmation that one has participated in murder or any other crime.

     He says by appearing before the Acholi leaders, Kanyamunyu did not plead guilty but only cleansed some evil spirits.

  To Harimwomugasho, the DPP still has the burden of proof to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Kanyamunyu participated in the Akena killing. In February 2020 at the time of adjourning Kanyamunyu’s trial to the next convenient session, the prosecution had adduced evidence from 13 witnesses.

    //Cue in: “Mato Oput is…      

Cue out: …in the murder”. //  

Another lawyer Ramathan Waiswa expects that if at all Kanyamunyu is convicted, he may ask for a lenient sentence and bring out the circumstances of Mato Put as one of the grounds to seek a lenient sentence.

  However, Waiswa notes that a Judge cannot rely on Mato Oput to convict someone because it’s not binding in law.

  Waiswa says that he doesn't see the trial going on up to the end but he suspects that Kanyamunyu has to either opt for a plea bargaining or change his plea because from what he saw in the media, Kanyamunyu has already expressed his guilt.

The lawyers now argue that if Kanyamunyu pleads guilty since it is a case of family and lovers, 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 Mato Oput they had not yet met with him to discuss, the way forward but he expects that they will  meet before court resumes next week.