A UPDF soldier initially sentenced to 12 years in prison for fatally shooting a student has had his prison term reduced to seven years.
Private Denis Otto Ochola (RA/194594) received a 12-year sentence in May 2022 from the 4th Division Court Martial in Gulu district after being found guilty of manslaughter.
During the trial, the prosecution argued that on or around March 6, 2022, while at Gulu Central High School, Otto intentionally caused the death of Gabriel Rwotomiya, a 17-year-old Senior Three student, by shooting him with gun no. 48007510.
Unsatisfied with the lower court’s decision, Otto, represented by his lawyer Elizabeth Nyasingwa, appealed the conviction and sentence to the General Court Martial (GCM) in Makindye, Kampala.
He contended that the lower court had made factual and legal errors in convicting him of manslaughter when the element of participation was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, resulting in a miscarriage of justice.
In his judgment on the appellant’s appeal, GCM chairman Brig. Gen. Robert Freeman Mugabe stated that the 12-year prison term was not excessive, considering that Otto had taken the life of an innocent student, an action that could have been avoided. While Otto had not received a maximum death sentence, the 12-year sentence was appropriate.
However, Mugabe concurred with the appellant’s argument that the lower court had erred in failing to consider the time Otto had spent in lawful custody. Taking into account mitigating factors, the court reduced Otto’s sentence to seven years in prison.
Mugabe also informed Otto of his right to appeal within fourteen days if he disagreed with the court’s decision.
On March 6, 2022, security forces were called to Gulu Central High School in Bardege-Layibi Division of Gulu City to quell a violent student protest. The students were protesting the school management’s decision not to broadcast a live English football match between Manchester City and Manchester United.
During the protest, students threw stones at security personnel, leading police and UPDF officers to fire warning shots into the air.
Tragically, during this turmoil, Rwotomiya, who was hiding atop a mango tree, was struck by a stray bullet in his left backside, which penetrated his spinal cord and shattered his jaws, causing excessive bleeding and instant death.