American couple accused of trafficking, torturing Ugandan foster child could face death penalty

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Two Americans living in Uganda could face the death penalty after being accused of trafficking and torturing their 10-year-old foster child, according to Ugandan authorities.

Ugandan state prosecutors charged Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both 32, with aggravated child trafficking Wednesday, according to Reuters. The charges came after the couple was originally charged with aggravated torture of their foster son Kayima John earlier this month.

A court document claimed that the Spencers “recruited, transported and maintained” the foster child “for the purpose of exploitation,” according to the Associated Press. The documents further accuse the couple of keeping the boy in a room with cameras to monitor his “stubbornness” and “hyperactive behavior.”

Kampala police spokesman Patrick Onyango told the AP that foreigners are legally allowed to foster children in Uganda, but it wasn’t clear what the Spencers were doing in the country since they didn’t have work permits.

Mr. Onyango claimed that the couple used the foster children to solicit money from donors. That allegation has served as the basis for the trafficking charge.

The couple pleaded not guilty to the torture charge, although they haven’t entered a plea for the trafficking charge. The couple’s attorney, who wasn’t identified, characterized the case as a “fishing expedition” and said the trafficking charge “doesn’t make sense,” according to a Ugandan newspaper report cited by Reuters.

Police in the country’s capital, Kampala, accused the Spencers of repeatedly torturing their son sometime between 2020 and December 2022.

“Our team of investigators established, that the couple kept the victim barefoot, and naked throughout the day, would occasionally make him squat in an awkward position, with his head facing the floor and hands spread out widely, he spent his nights on a wooden platform, without a mattress or beddings and was served cold meals from the fridge,” Ugandan police said in a Dec. 12 press release. “We believe, the victim could have endured more severe acts of torture, away from the camera.”

The 10-year-old was one of the three children fostered by the couple in 2018 from the Welcome Ministry in Jinja City. The Spencers later moved with their children to Upper Naguru and joined the Motive Creation Agency.

The U.S. Embassy in Uganda declined to comment on the latest charge brought against the Spencers, according to Global News.

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