The American couple accused of torturing a child at court. Left is Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathis Spencer (Right). (Photo by URN)

American Couple Ordered to Pay sh100m Compensation for Tortured Ugandan Child

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The International Crimes Division of the High Court has ordered an American couple to compensate a child they allegedly tortured with sh100m.  

Mackenzie Leigh and her husband Nicholas Scott Spencer were accused of intentionally inflicting physical and mental pain and suffering on a 10-year-old HIV-positive foster son whose name remains withheld in respect of his right to privacy.

The court heard that the couple isolated the boy from other children, withdrew him from school, made him sleep on a wooden slab without a mattress, and repeatedly made him sit in one position on cold tiles with his legs crossed and folded, and fed him on frozen food. The boy was also kept under CCTV surveillance as punishment for misbehaviour under the pretext of instilling discipline in him.

The couple was initially charged with aggravated torture and aggravated child trafficking, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, and child neglect. According to the prosecution, the couple that has stayed in Uganda since 2017, recruited, transported, and kept the child through abuse of position of vulnerability for purposes of exploitation.

The husband was specifically accused of failing to provide the victim with basic needs such as sufficient food, clothing, bedding, and a safe and conducive living environment. They were later charged with overstaying their visa and working in Uganda without a permit, having been employed at New Frontiers Technology Consult Limited and Motiv, located at Innovation Village.

The prosecution added that the offenses were committed between December 2020 and December 2022 in Naguru, Kampala District. The two initially pleaded not guilty to the charges but later accepted a plea bargain with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), through which they acknowledged their excesses and agreed to return to the United States.

The agreement shows that the couple was trying to manage the child, who allegedly suffers from a complex psychiatric disorder which causes him to engage in seriously disruptive behaviour such as causing physical harm to others, soiling himself and his bedding, and defying parental instructions.

Lady Justice Alice Komuhangi Khaukha today endorsed the plea bargain agreement and acknowledged observations by lawyer David Mpanga that there is a systematic problem with no mechanism to take care of unfortunate children in Uganda.

“…that is why the victim found himself in the hands of the accused persons and non-citizens of Uganda and also suffering from ill health.  The child needed help and support after he lost his father, having been abandoned by his mother with no known relative willing to support him. Unfortunately, the accused persons failed to manage their peculiar behaviours,” she said.

The judge also ordered them to pay sh3.3m and sh1.5m  for their crimes and in default faces a jail sentence of two years and six months respectively. She ordered that the money be temporarily deposited in the Asset Recovery Management Fund account in the Central Bank pending the appointment of a trustee who will manage it on behalf of the victim.

Justice Komuhangi directed the office of the DPP to work with the public trustee, who is the administrator general, at least within 3 months from the date of this order to agree on how this money should be managed for the benefit of the child.

The records in the plea bargain agreement show that the couple is suffering from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome an inherited disorder that affects the connective tissues in the body, especially joints, skin and blood vessel walls, where Mackenzie was diagnosed at 19 years old and Nicholas was diagnosed at 24  and as such, they are all unable to bear children. They have since each undergone surgery nine and two times respectively.

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