In Uganda, an American couple charged with child trafficking faces the death penalty.
Nicholas Spencer and his wife, Mackenzie Lee Matthias Spencer, both 32, have been in custody since December 9 after a neighbor in the capital, Kampala, reported allegations of torture to police.
They moved to the East African country for humanitarian work in 2017 and raised three children the following year from the Welcome Ministry in Jinja City.
Among them was a 10-year-old boy attending a special school who was HIV positive, according to police and local media.
In announcing their first arrest, Ugandan police said Spencer had “constantly tortured” the boy since 2020 and “caught the attention of his neighbors”, and video captured some of the incidents. rice field.
The couple kept the boy barefoot and “naked all day” and “at times forced him to squat in an awkward position with his head on the floor and his arms spread wide,” police said.
He was also forced to sleep on a wooden platform without a mattress or bedding and was only fed cold food from the refrigerator.
Police also stressed that the boy “could have endured more severe torture had he been off camera.”
According to the Daily Monitor, a caregiver told police that only one was tortured because his foster parents accused him of being stubborn, hyperactive and mentally unstable.
“I wanted to quit my job, but I knew that if I quit without doing anything, the torture would continue,” the caregiver was quoted as saying.
The Spencers were initially charged with aggravated torture on December 9 and given a maximum sentence of life in prison. They are pleading not guilty to the charge.
This week they were hit with an additional charge of aggravated child trafficking that carries the death penalty if convicted, state prosecutors said Wednesday.
According to the indictment, the couple had recruited, transported and kept their children through “abuse of their position of vulnerability for purposes of exploitation.”
The new charges were read out on Tuesday when the Spencers appeared before a magistrate’s court. They could not make a plea, as more serious charges can only be heard in the High Court.
No date has yet been set for its High Court hearing on the couple remanded to Ruzira Prison, a high-security facility on the outskirts of Kampala.
The couple’s lawyers dismissed the case as a “fishing expedition” by authorities, arguing there was no evidence.
“When we went to court, the state said the investigation was complete, but today they added new charges and said the investigation was ongoing,” she said. told Presse.
“It doesn’t make sense.”
Lawyers had previously requested bail for the Spencers, claiming they had an unspecified illness that could not be cured in prison.
Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer previously had a GoFundMe for emergency surgery for a “joint and spine problem” that already required seven spinal surgeries.
Her complaint states that they “migrated to East Africa” to conduct “humanitarian work focused on women’s empowerment and education” but had to return to Spartanburg, South Carolina, for surgery. He detailed what he did not.
“Since we live abroad, we do not have health insurance in the United States, which means we will have to pay all medical expenses for this surgery out of our own pocket,” she wrote.
Their bail applications were denied after prosecutors argued that there were no untreatable illnesses within Uganda’s prison system.
“They have no community or family ties in Uganda, and the crimes they are currently charged with are of a serious nature that carry a penalty of life imprisonment, so they are very likely to evade bail,” the prosecutor said. said Joan Keko of The Court.
The US Embassy in Kampala said it was aware of reports of the arrest and detention of two US citizens and was monitoring the situation. The company declined to comment Wednesday on the latest charges and possible death penalty.
with post wire