A week after the March 28 murder of 12-year old Bella Isimbi Uwase by the hand of her family’s erstwhile houseboy, Sylvan Mahoro (we learnt that his real name was Sylvan Hagumamahoro during the trial) I wrote an article asking myself, and the rest of the readers, if it would’ve been a bad idea to reinstate the death penalty. Especially when crimes as gruesome as this child’s murder occur. Examining the different opinions that readers expressed on the comments section, it seemed that the pro-death penalty crowd numbered a bit more.
When I heard that he was going to be tried at Kigali Regional Stadium, I was somewhat taken aback. Personally, I wasn’t too happy by the judiciary’s decision to hear the case there instead of a ‘normal’ courtroom. While I’m pretty sure that the judges didn’t break the law in hearing the case in a place better suited for sports events and concerts, I still felt uncomfortable when I saw pictures of the murderer being ‘welcomed’ into the stadium with a chorus of boos and expletives.
I understand that there was huge public interest in following the trial proceedings. But I think there was a better way of doing things. The trial could have still taken place in a courtroom with Radio Rwanda, Rwanda TV and other radio and television stations broadcasting the proceedings live.
A court is not just a building where judges sit down and try cases. In French, some are called ‘palais de justice’ (palace of justice). There is a certain gravitas to a courtroom; a certain majesty that is lost when its proceedings are moved to another place, like a stadium. And truth be told, it just doesn’t look serious when a judge in flowing robes has to walk by a track to get to their chair.
Anyway, I tried to follow the trial as best I could on social media, especially Twitter, and traditional media and one comment that the defendant made took me aback. When asked to explain his actions, Sylvan admitted that he murdered the poor child but then went on to ask why no one in the house tried to stop him when they saw him stabbing her. I was so shocked by the statement that I wondered whether he was actually insane. I mean, how could he think that that was a valid defence? Or even have the gall to actually say that knowing fully well that her grieving family, who he’d worked years for, were listening to every word he said?
The only way logical reason I could come up with was that he was clinically insane. The more I thought about it, the more sense my layman’s diagnosis made. I mean, going as far back as the fact itself, it was not the action of a sane man with all his faculties.
I wonder whether experts examined his psychological state. It seems that he represented himself without the assistance of a lawyer and perhaps that’s why he didn’t think to plead innocent on account of insanity. If I were the lawyer defending him I certainly would have ensured that experts from Ndera Psychiatric Hospital examined him before the trial begun because I am pretty sure that they would have found something mentally wrong with him. The nature of his crime and the manner in which he defended himself brought me to that conclusion.
Sadly, I doubt whether he will get the psychological help that he so openly needs in our normal prison system. I doubt whether our prison wardens have the training necessary to deal with AND help treat mental illness patients. In my opinion, something needs to be done. In some nations, within their prison system, there are often facilities for those found insane. They are given treatment for their various mental conditions and kept away from society until there is proof that they have been cured.
Mental health issues and their subsequent treatment are a reality that must be faced by both the criminal justice and prison system. Instead of putting a mad man in general population in ‘1930 Prison’ and putting the rest of the convicts and prison staff at unnecessary risk, better he be put in a padded cell with nurses and specially trained staff. That’s just my opinion.