Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Court of Appeal in Kampala has acquitted Simon Rwakasama, a resident of Nsanga village in Nakasongola district, of arson after appealing twice against his conviction and sentence.
Rwakasama was arrested and charged with the offence of arson contrary to section 327 (a) of the Penal Code Act in 2016.
Prosecution alleged that on 24th October 2016, at Nsanga village, Kalungi sub county in Nakasongola district, the accused willfully and unlawfully set fire on the structure and property of Stephen Luzindana.
A witness, Sam Kanyarwanda testified that he saw the appellant lighting a match and setting the house of the complainant on fire. That he rescued children from the house before sounding an alarm seeking for help.
The accused denied the allegations and used the defense of alibi (a claim or piece of evidence that one was elsewhere when an act, typically a criminal one, is alleged to have taken place) 8 days after the arrest.
However, the Chief Magistrate of Nakasongola, Her Worship Agatonica Mbabazi Ahimbisibwe convicted Rwakasama of arson on 9th August 2018, and sentenced him to 8 years imprisonment.
The chief magistrate found the single witness account of Kanyarwanda truthful and that he remained consistent and truthful during cross examination.
The chief magistrate further dismissed the defence of alibi, saying that during cross examination, the accused didn’t tell the police on time that he was sleeping at the time the house was set ablaze.
He immediately appealed against both the conviction and sentence but High Court judge Jane Frances Abodo dismissed his appeal on 25th October 2018. Rwakasama again appealed against the decision of High Court on grounds that the appellant judge (Justice Abodo) erred in law when she confirmed the conviction based on unreliable and uncorroborated evidence of a single identifying witness.
Through his lawyer, Andrew Sebugwawo, Rwakasama said the justice erred in law when she confirmed his conviction without considering his defense of alibi, in the alternative and without prejudice.
Also, that the learned Judge erred in law when she confirmed Rwakasama’s sentence which was illegal, based on wrong legal principles and was harsh and manifestly excessive given the circumstances of the case.
In his second appeal, a panel of judges from Court of Appeal, Justice Fredrick Egonda Ntende, Catherine Bamugemereire and Christopher Madrama, have acquitted Rwakasama.
The panel ruled that the first appellate court judge ought to have scrutinized this evidence before coming to the conclusion that the learned trial Chief Magistrate properly disregarded the appellant’s alibi on the strength of the prosecution evidence.
The panel further ruled that it was unsafe to base conviction solely on the testimony of a single identifying witness yet there was a land wrangle between the two families and there were conflicting testimonies, one asserting that the appellant was at the scene through a single identifying witness and 3 others asserting that he was somewhere else at the material time.
“We accordingly quash the conviction of the appellant and acquit him. We further set aside the sentence. The appellant shall be set free unless held on other lawful grounds” reads the judgement in part.