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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

The George Zimmerman Trial of Uganda

Mary Alice H.

Kampala, Uganda

After arriving in Uganda late Sunday afternoon and work starting at 9am Monday morning in the High Court Criminal Division, I was in need of a good nights sleep and my fingers were crossed for a slow first few days at work. It is now a week later and last week was anything but slow.

Monday morning Andrew and I arrived to the warm welcome of three Ugandan law interns, who share an office with us. That day was largely a met and greet. We met with our judges (Andrew and I each have two judges that we report to), and we also met with a defense attorney who works closely with the High Court, who gave us our first assignment.

Tuesday is a blog for a different day. I will leave it at this for now, when the attorney said he had an assignment for us, that assignment translated into Andrew and I accompanying a team of lawyers on a 3-hour (6 hour round trip) journey outside of Kampala to a prison farm in Muyinayina to help implement plea-bargaining. This trip also included eating grasshoppers, a Ugandan delicacy!

Wednesday - there is no better analogy to describe Wednesday's trial other than it was equivalent of the George Zimmerman trial in America. I, delirious and sleep deprived, was completely unaware that this was going on until walking into the High Court Wednesday morning and seeing people everywhere. I was quickly ushered into Chief Justice Mukasa's chambers where the lawyers were presenting their arguments. It is common practice to have trials in the judge's chambers in Uganda. However, people were literally stacked on top of each other and spilling out into the hallways trying to hear what was going on. And to think, there I was sitting front and center at the judge's table with all the lawyers. Crazy! Finally, after about an hour and half, Justice Mukasa thought it was best to move the trial to the courtroom, and this is really when I realized the magnitude of this trial. Media was now showering the courtroom and all the wooden benches (extremely uncomfortable) were filled. The lawyers were robed and ready, and we all rose as the judge entered in his bright red robe and blonde wig.

Brief overview of the case: A women working in Parliament was found unconscious on her apartment floor one night by her boyfriend. There were two bottles of wine, one empty, sitting on the table. One of the biggest issues is over the boyfriend not immediately getting help or calling for a doctor. It is alleged that at least an hour and half went by before he got a doctor, although he did bring her water and tried to wake her up. His reason for not putting his girlfriend in the car and taking her to the hospital was because she was too obese. Good reason? I don't know! The girlfriend was later pronounced dead with cocaine found in her system. The boyfriend fled to Kenya but has now returned and says he was very scared that's way he ran, as she was a government figure.

The Ugandan interns told me that the local news is covering the story around the clock. They said at first the media was portraying the boyfriend has the bad guy and had everyone in Uganda hating him. Now, the interns say that the media has switched sides and is portraying the boyfriend as innocent. It will be interesting to see how much the media, if at all, affects the outcome of this case!

The judge is scheduled to give is judgment on June 13th. Rumor has it that we will be asked to write opinions for the judge to consider in his decision making process!