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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Army sentences 20 year old HIV+ mother to death

MOROTO, Uganda - As the court martial handed the death sentence to Judith Koriang on Wednesday afternoon, the mother stood still with teary eyes. She bowed down as her eyes swept across the courtroom, from chairman Lt. Col. Eugene Sebugwawo to the other members of the 3rd Division army court.

Koriang, a 20-year-old widow with a young son, heard her fate sealed by the court martial sitting in Moroto. She was advised by the court to appeal against the death sentence within 14 days.

Koriang shot dead her husband, Pte. Nelson Okello, on May 1, 2009, at Nakiloro army detachment in Moroto district, a few kilometres to the Uganda-Kenya border, following a domestic spat. The discordant couple was residing in a makeshift hut, popularly known as mama ingia pole.

After Koriang tested HIV-positive and her husband negative, it triggered endless insults from the husband. Koriang told the court that Okello was the only man she had known in life; and his persistent demand that she goes to the man who infected her, sent her mad.

On the fateful day, the husband went back home but refused to eat supper and asked her to leave. She narrated that she played it cool until midnight when she woke up to execute her mission. She picked her husband’s gun stealthily and tiptoed out. She then sprayed bullets on the makeshift structure, knowing that by the time the gun went silent, her son and husband would be dead.

Miraculously, the son survived but the husband was hit by a few bullets out of the 30 she sprayed and died instantly. “After all the mistreatment, the only answer was to kill my son and husband and then turn the gun on myself. Unfortunately, the gun ran shot of bullets,” Koriang told the court martial. She said after the shooting, she entered the hut and carried out the baby and started walking to Moroto Central Police Station, over 30km away, to hand herself in. However, she got tired on the way and decided to rest at Rupa sub-county headquarters after walking for 20km in the night.

Koriang has been on remand in Moroto prison for 14 months.

Pte. Francis Masereka said after the shooting, a search was mounted along the main road to Moroto and Koriang was found seated with her one-year-old baby and taken back to the detachment. Pte. Ariama Okello, the immediate neighbour, said the quarrels started after a UPDF team of doctors tested soldiers for HIV and found that Koriang was positive yet the husband was negative.

After reading the judgement, the court martial chairman said a number of soldiers’ wives had killed their husbands. “To cut the rising trend, Judith Koriang, I am sentencing you to suffer death as a deterrent to others planning the same act,” Ssebugwawo said. After the ruling, Lt. Dan Madaba, her defence lawyer, allowed her to talk to her relatives briefly before she boarded a military truck to prison.

The 3rd Division army spokesperson, Capt. Deo Akiiki, yesterday explained that Koriang, a civilian, was tried in the military court because the UPDF Act allows anybody in the company of the armed forces, who uses firearms to commit a crime, to be tried by the court.

Koriang is the second woman to be sentenced to death by the court martial. The first was Grace Ichakuna from Bukedea, who participated in killing her husband in 2008. There are about 500 inmates in Luzira and Kirinya prisons on death row. Some were sentenced by the army court and others by the civil courts.

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