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Woman jailed for injecting toddler with HIV-infected blood acquitted

High Court in Gulu, Uganda has overturned a ruling in which a woman was convicted and condemned to prison for injecting a baby with blood which was infected with HIV.

On July 6, this year, a lower court in Kitgum District presided over by Chief Magistrate Hussein Nasulu Ntalo sentenced Ms Sylvia Kyomuhangi, 32, to two years in jail for injecting a six-month old baby with blood infected with HIV and Aids.

In his ruling, Mr Ntalo said the evidence adduced by the seven witnesses that included a doctor who examined the toddler and tested the suspect, was enough to conclude that the accused committed the offense.

“The babysitter, the crime officers who visited the scene and many others, all testified against Kyomuhangi. Also, DNA blood samples taken from her at the government analytical lab in Kampala and the blood-stained clothes all indicated she was the actual offender,’’ the magistrate ruled.

After her conviction and sentencing, Ms Kyomuhangi’s lawyer Immaculate Owomugisha of UGANET (Uganda Aids Network) appealed the ruling at the High Court.

JAM-PACKED

Before a jam-packed courtroom on Thursday, Justice Stephen Mubiru of the High Court in Gulu, evaluated the evidence and ordered for the immediate release of Ms Kyomuhangi. The judge explained that the evidence availed was insufficient and weak to incriminate the suspect.

Justice Mubiru said that there was no sharp object recovered at the scene of crime and that there was no traces of blood to prove that the baby bled after the pricking.

“This case is based on a series of inference which seemed to support one another which makes it very hard to justify she (Ms Kyomuhangi) injected her blood into the baby. Her conviction is therefore, squashed and I order her to be set free,” Justice Mubiru ruled.

In his ruling, he also stated that the forensic tests showed that DNA traces found on the cloth she used to wrap the baby were hers but did not contain any blood.

“I could not find any connection between her piece of cloth and the blood said to have been injected into the baby because the swelling found on the baby could have been a mere rash,” he added.

Ms Kyomuhangi’s case is among the 66 criminal and civil cases Justice Mubiru is expected to rule on.

In her submission, Kyomuhangi’s lawyer Ms Owomugisha stated that setting her client free was a victory to the community of people living with HIV/AIDS since some of them are stigmatized.

“We commend court for restoring Ms Kyomuhangi’s dignity by setting her free because the case was full of assumptions,” the lawyer said.

The High Court in Gulu initially set Thursday August 15 to deliver a ruling on the appeal, but it was adjourned to August 29 after padlocks to the court cells failed to open.

BACKGROUND

Prosecution states that on December 26, at about 9pm, Ms Eunice Lakot, the victim’s mother, had left the child with a baby-sitter Ms Aneno, before Kyomuhangi carried him away to the bedroom as Ms Aneno watched. She had spent a night in the House as a visitor. She was to proceed to Kidepo national park the following day.

Kyomuhangi later returned the baby crying. When Ms Lakot examined her baby after the accused had left, she found he had small swelling in both armpits.

She took the baby to Kitgum Hospital where the doctors confirmed the swellings were as a result of an injection. The child was put on PEP (Post-exposure Prophylaxis), an antiretroviral medication that prevents infection after being exposed to HIV.

Ms Lakot reported the matter to Mr Ronald Okot, the village chairperson of Gangdyang Cell, before she recorded a statement at Kitgum Central Police Station.