A demobilised Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) junior officer has appealed his life sentence for a murder he committed 15 years ago and in which his accomplices have already served their sentences.
A military court sentenced former private Nzabahimana Edouard to life imprisonment in 2014 for his role in the 2002 murder of Mukamusoni Astherie — a neighbour he accused of killing members of his family.
He is now pleading to have his sentence reduced due to mitigating circumstances. He argues that his guilty plea should have been considered as a mitigating factor when passing sentence.
Nzabahimana reckons he would still be a free man had a conflict not erupted between him and his brothers over his earnings from a peace-keeping mission to Sudan.
In 2014, after serving their sentences, his two brothers and partners in crime, François Mutabazi and Laurent Nizeyimana, volunteered information about his involvement in the crime. This was after he failed to raise the Rwf3 million ($3,510) they wanted from him to buy their silence.
Nzabahimana says he could only raise Rwf2.5 million ($2,925) which the duo — who had already served their sentence — refused.
After he was demobilised in 2005, RDF sent him on a peace-keeping mission to Sudan in 2013 where his brothers thought he had earned Rwf12 million ($14,040).
Nzabahimana says he was provoked into committing murder after he returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo to find his mother had died, allegedly after being poisoned by their neighbour Mukamusoni.
He claims that his sister told him Mukamusoni was planning to kill him too. His anger was made worse after being told that his brother, the wife and two children had also been killed by Mukamusoni.
He looked for Mukamusoni together with his brothers, Mutabazi and Nizeyimana and they traced her to parents village.
“We entered their compound and knocked at the door and when they asked who we was I told them my name. I told them that I wanted to see Mukamusoni to ask her about the death of my family members, but they refused to open,” the soldier said.
Dressed in his military gear and armed with a gun, he forced the door open and let his two brothers in.
“I ordered my brothers to enter and bring Mukamusoni to me. However, they killed her inside the house,” Nzabahimana told the court.
After his arrest and subsequent trial at the Military High Court in 2014, Nzabahimana was sentenced to life imprisonment, but he now wants the Supreme Court to consider his guilty plea as a mitigating factor and give him a lesser punishment.
“He did not have counsel during the first trial and he was not told the consequences of pleading guilty,” said his lawyer Blandine Umupfasoni.
According to the prosecution, Nzabahimana is the one who led his brothers to the crime scene, commanded the operation as a trained soldier, and
therefore deserves no mercy.
Under the country’s law, prosecution of a crime lapses after 10 years from the date it was committed.
However, if any investigation is conducted during that period, the prescriptive period for criminal action starts afresh, which is the case here.