KAMPALA (Reuters) – A U.S. couple previously charged in Uganda with aggravated torture and child trafficking pleaded guilty on Tuesday to lesser charges and will now pay a range of fines of up to 105 million shillings ($28,000), according to a court ruling.
Nicholas Spencer and his wife Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both in their early 30s and from South Carolina, were detained in December last year and initially charged with the graver offences against a 10-year-old boy they had fostered and were living with in Kampala, the Ugandan capital.
The charge of aggravated child trafficking carries the death penalty in Uganda while aggravated child torture draws a maximum sentence of life in prison. Both defendants denied those charges.
High Court Judge Alice Kyomuhangi said on Tuesday that as a result of a plea bargain with prosecutors, the defendants – who have lived in Uganda since 2017 and had been free on bail since March – agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges.
Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer pleaded guilty to inflicting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for which she was sentenced to a fine of 3.36 million shillings or two years in prison. Nicholas Spencer admitted one count of child neglect for which he was fined 1.5 million shillings or six months in jail.
David Mpanga, counsel for the couple, told Reuters they had opted to pay fines for both those charges.
The couple also pleaded guilty to staying illegally in the east African country and working without permits. For this, they were sentenced to two months in prison But these were deducted from the time they served while on remand. Both were also ordered to compensate the child with 50 million shillings each.
“The child was in need of help and support, having lost his father and having been abandoned by his own mother. Unfortunately the accused persons failed to manage his peculiar behaviours,” Kyomuhangi said while delivering her ruling.
Mpanga told Reuters the boy had psychiatric problems, including aggressive and anti-social behaviour, and that the couple was trying to manage a difficult child but because they had no experience in parenting, “they perhaps went too far.”
($1 = 3,780.0000 Ugandan shillings)
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; editing by George Obulutsa and Mark Heinrich)