US couple in Uganda faces death penalty for alleged child trafficking

An American couple faces the death penalty in Uganda after being accused of child trafficking and torturing one of three foster children from a Christian ministry who are in their care.

Nicholas Spencer and his wife Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both 32, have been in custody since December 9 after residents of the capital, Kampala, reported their alleged torture to police.

They moved to the East African nation for humanitarian work in 2017, adopting three children the following year. from the Ministry of Welcome in the city of Jinja.

That included the alleged victim, a 10-year-old boy who attended a special needs school and is HIV-positive, according to police and local media.

In announcing his initial arrest, Uganda police said the Spencers “consistently tortured” the boy since 2020, “which drew the attention of neighbours”, who captured some of the incidents on video.

Nicholas Spencer and his wife Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer with the three children they raised in Uganda.
The Spencers are accused of torturing the 10-year-old boy, one of three they took in in 2018, a year after moving to Uganda for humanitarian work.
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The couple kept the boy barefoot and “naked throughout the day” and “occasionally made him squat in an awkward position, with his head down and his hands outstretched,” police said.

They also forced him to sleep on a wooden platform without a mattress or bedding and only fed him cold meals from the refrigerator, police said.

The force also emphasized that the boy “could have endured more severe acts of torture, away from the camera.”

Luzira Maximum Security Prison
Luzira Maximum Security Prison is the only maximum security prison in Uganda.
Luzira Prisons

A caretaker told police that only one child was tortured because adoptive parents accused him of being stubborn, hyperactive and mentally unstable. according to local media The Daily Monitor.

“I wanted to quit the job, but I knew if I quit without doing something about it, the torture would continue,” the caretaker reportedly said.

The Spencers were initially charged on December 9 with aggravated torture, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. They have pleaded not guilty to that charge.

Nicholas Spencer and his wife Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer before a court in Uganda.
The Spencers are also charged with aggravated child trafficking, which carries the death penalty if convicted.
REUTERS

This week, they were charged with an additional count of aggravated child trafficking, which carries the death penalty if convicted, the state attorney said Wednesday.

The couple captured, transported and kept the child through “abuse of a position of vulnerability for the purpose of exploitation,” according to the statement of charges.

The new charge was read out Tuesday when the Spencers appeared before a magistrates court. However, they were not allowed to enter a guilty plea because the most serious charge can only be heard by the High Court.

Nicholas Spencer and his wife Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both 32-year-old US citizens, in court on December 14.
They were denied bail and remanded to Luzira maximum security prison.
REUTERS

No date has yet been set for a high court hearing for the couple, who have been sent to Luzira prison, a maximum-security facility on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala.

The couple’s lawyer dismissed the case as a “fishing expedition” by the authorities, claiming they had no evidence.

“Last time we were in court, the state said the investigations were complete, and yet today they added a new charge and said the investigations are ongoing,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“Has no sense”.

The attorney previously requested that the Spencers be released on bail, claiming they had unspecified ailments that could not be treated in prison.

Nicholas Spencer and his wife Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer before a court in Uganda.
The Spencers were denied bail even though they said they had ailments that could not be treated in custody.
REUTERS

Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer previously had a GoFundMe for emergency surgery for “joint and spine issues” that had already required seven spinal surgeries.

Their appeal detailed how they “moved to East Africa” ​​to do “humanitarian work focused on women’s empowerment and education” but had to travel to Spartanburg, South Carolina for surgery.

“Because we live abroad, we do not have health insurance in the US, which means all medical expenses for this surgery must be paid out of pocket,” he wrote, getting less than $5,000 of the $28,000 he sought.

His request for bail was denied because prosecutors insisted there were no ailments that could not be treated within the Ugandan prison system.

Luzira Prison, a maximum security facility on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala.
They have been transferred to the maximum security prison of Luzira.
Luzira Prisons

“They have no community or family ties in Uganda, and the offense they are currently charged with is serious in nature and carries a sentence of life imprisonment, therefore their probability of absconding on bail is very, very high,” he said. prosecutor Joan Keko. Court.

The US embassy in Kampala said it was aware of the reports of the arrest and detention of two Americans and was monitoring the situation. He declined to comment Wednesday on the latest charge and the possible death penalty.

with pole wires

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