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James Aurien, the senior police officer who turned the gun on his pregnant wife

MURDER | On April 19, 2008, Ugandans woke up to shocking news. James Aurien, a District Police Commander considered a protector had turned into a tormentor and consequently taken a life. It wasn't just some random life in line of duty but that of his wife. Christine Apolot was actually pregnant. Ten years down the road, Crime24 revisits the bizarre incident that left the country in shock.

MURDER | Those charged with keeping law and order would be the least expected to kill their spouses, Justice Lawrence Gidudu stated as he handed a death sentence to James Peter Aurien, the former Mukono District Police Commander, who is serving time for the murder of his wife, Christine Apolot, on April 19, 2008. The sentence was reduced to 40 years following a ruling by the Court of Appeal.

The couple lived together in Lugazi Police Barracks but their love life had turned sour after Aurien accused his 24-year-old wife of adultery. Although the former police boss denied the charges, prosecution adducing evidence from 16 witnesses told court that on the fateful night, Aurien had quarrelled with the deceased and the latter had for reasons only known to her picked Aurien’s pistol and taken it to her bedroom which she shared with her young daughter.

Unusual for husband and wife, the convict and deceased slept in separate rooms. When he returned in the night, Aurien was informed the deceased had picked his pistol.

As per Mukono High Court records, the convict went to the deceased’s bedroom demanding for his pistol. The deceased opened her bedroom and dared Aurien to kill her.

“You kill me I am here,” her sister Akello told the court. The witness, according her court statement, said the duo moved into the corridor and shortly a bullet was fired. The deceased lay in a pool of blood.

Aurien rushed her to Kawolo Hospital but on realizing she was dead, he drove back and abandoned the body a few meters from Lugazi Police Station and went into hiding. A week later, he handed himself in to the Police at Kibuli CID Headquarters. He was detained and charged.

Bail denied

Aurien had asked for bail on grounds of old age, terminal illness and the harsh conditions in detention, among others. He also said he had eight dependents.

But Justice Irene Mulyagonja, who presided over the case, denied his application, citing status of the offence and the stage in the proceedings.

Justice Mulyagonja also added that the nature of Aurien’s profession in the Uganda Police Force requires one who is energetic, hence refuting the excuse of old age and terminal illness. She further observed that Aurien’s case is of public interest due to the high rate of domestic violence in the country, especially against women.

In his defense, the cop denied shooting the deceased. On the contrary, he testified before court that he saw the deceased shoot herself when he called her to return his pistol.

“When I was told that my pistol was with the my wife (deceased), I went to her room and when i asked her to give it to me, she opened the door, pointed a pistol at me and when I moved away, I looked back only to see her point it at herself and i shouted at her to stop it but she went ahead and shot herself dead,” Aurien’s statement reads in part.

According to his defense on court record, he believed the deceased was agitated with guilt of her adultery which he had got information about.

“Once he realized she was dead, he left the body on the way to Lugazi Police Station and rushed to his village to assemble cows to pay a fine and dowry to the deceased’s relatives who would become wild if they learnt of the death of their daughter,” the judgement states.

Witness accounts

According to court record, Prosecution Witness 8, the deceased’s sister Hellen Ruth Akello testified that the convict told her “I have killed. My child will grow with milk”.

Prosecution Witness 5 O/Sgt Adanga also testified that the convict told him “I have killed my wife accidentally” as he handed in the pistol.

Prosecution Witness 14 OIC CID Mr. Mugarura testified that the convict told him he was going to the headquarters to report a case of murder. Prosecution Witness 7 (PIC Oketcho Nico) who rang the convict shortly after the incident said he (convict) told him he was going to report himself.

The prosecution contended these were utterances of the killer and proves his participation rendering the cause of death unlawful.

The deceased’s young sister Akello further said she heard the couple quarrel on April 19, 2008 about the door of their home being left unlocked.

Akello, who had lived with the couple since November 2007, added: “When I heard a blast, I came out of my room and Aurien told me he had killed her (Christine Apolot)”.

Akello told Justice Gidudu during hearing at Mukono High Court that after a few minutes, she came out of her bedroom only to find her sister bleeding profusely from her left eye.

Testifying through an interpreter, Akello said before the fateful day, Apolot called their sister, Gorreti Atim, informing her she had a quarrel with Aurien. Akello said Aurien called a passerby after the shooting and asked him to help lift his wife into a vehicle, saying she had been shot. Akello further stated that Aurien advised her to remain in the house to clean the blood stains but she refused.

Akello said Apolot had at one time picked her husband’s pistol and kept it in her bedroom, fearing that he was annoyed with her.

High court judgment

The assessors had given the presiding judge separate opinions. The gentleman assessor was not clear in his opinion but observed that since the deceased asked the convict to kill her, there was no malice aforethought.

He advised the judge to find the convict guilty of manslaughter giving impression that the gentleman assessor based his opinion on the belief that the deceased put herself in harm’s ways by asking the convict to kill her.

The lady assessor urged that prosecution failed to prove the case against the now convict and advised the jury to acquit the convict but justice Gidudu declined both submissions. .

“With respect, the two assessors did not appreciate the law as stated and took the absence of the eye witnesses as lack of direct evidence to mean that the case was not proven,”the judge said.

“If the two assessors had considered the circumstantial evidence adduced by the Prosecution and evidence from witnesses, they would have found that the possibility of the deceased shooting herself was a remote one. It was possible but the least probable,” Judge Gidudu said

“The convict was at the scene and his subsequent conduct betrayed him. He acted with overwhelming guilt and, therefore, his participation is proved beyond reasonable doubt,’’ the high court judge quoted.

The sentence

On sentencing, it was held that the convict had a previous clean crime record and had been on remand for two-and-a-half years. The maximum sentence for this crime is death for which the Prosecution had asked the jury to impose reasoning that Aurien acted irresponsibly and that cases of domestic violence were on the increase.

The convict who had been in the police force for 36 years also asked for lenience on account of his being a first offender who was remorseful for witnessing the death of his wife. He asked for a lenient sentence that would enable him rejoin society as a reformed person.

The aggravating circumstances were that the convict would have acted with restraint given his role as the keeper of law and order.

“The deceased was only 24 years old and was pregnant when shot dead. She died a young girl leaving a very young baby. Though the convict is a first offender who has been in service for 36 years, the act dents his exemplary record. With this conviction, all his benefits are gone,” Judge Gidudu said in his ruling.

“Those charged with keeping law and order would be the least expected to kill their spouses. There was ample time for the convict to handle the situation without loss of life. He cannot get away with her death as lightly as the defense asked me to do. I, therefore, sentence the convict to suffer death in a manner provided by law.”

Aurien appeals sentence

Aurien survived hanging after Court of Appeal reduced commuted his sentence from death to 40 years in jail.Two justices of the Appeal Court Remmy Kasule and Augustine Nshimye upheld Aurien’s murder conviction but reduced his death sentence on account that he has a chance to reform.

“His children and mother need care and love of their father and he has already reformed,” the judges ruled. However, they observed that Aurien’s threats before the shooting of his wife, which was targeted at a very vital part of the body proved he had malice aforethought to murder.

The judges also faulted the High Court judge who handed Aurien the harsh death sentence, saying it was unjustified. They ordered that the 40-year jail term be counted from the date when Aurien was convicted in the High Court in 2010.

Differing judgement

However, in a dissenting verdict, their colleague Justice Rubby Aweri Opio held that Aurien deserved acquittal since investigators ignored the other possible ways how the deceased could have died.

“According to the investigations, the deceased could have been accidentally killed or could have shot herself,” Justice Aweri observed.

“Justice Gidudu, while passing down the sentence, was not mindful of the evidence that was adduced by the prosecution. The finger prints were not brought in court to show that Aurien had pulled the trigger that killed his wife,” Aurien’s lawyer Dalton Oponya had argued in the grounds of the appeal.

Despite surviving the execution, Aurien further appealed the 40-year jail term in the Supreme Court, the highest appellate court in the country.

Appeal flops

On February 23, 2018, court was supposed to hear an appeal filed by in the Supreme Court by Aurien but the hearing did not take place after Aurien’s lawyer Andrew Sebugwawo informing a panel of five Supreme Court judges led by Stellah Arach Amoko that he was not ready with his submission, having received the exhibits just a few days back.

On July 27, 2018, Aurien’s appeal case came up for mention again but flopped afterb chief justice Bart Katureebe was indisposed, denying the court the quorum to hear the criminal appeal. Court informed his lawyers that a new date will be communicated.

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