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American Couple Face Possible Death Penalty for Allegedly Torturing and Sex Trafficking 10-Year-Old Foster Child in Uganda

Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer (YouTube screenshot)

Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer (YouTube screenshot)

An American couple living in East Africa are facing the death penalty for allegedly torturing and sex trafficking their 10-year-old foster child over the course of several years.

Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both 32, were taken into custody by the territorial police of Kampala Metropolitan in Uganda earlier this month and charged with aggravated torture for the alleged physical and emotional abuse of young Kayima John, authorities announced.

The South Carolina couple initially faced a maximum sentence of life in prison on the aggravated torture charges but authorities on Tuesday hit the Spencers with additional charges of “aggravated trafficking in children,” a crime that carries a death sentence if they are convicted, Reuters reported. The charges were filed in Buganda Road Chief Magistrate Court.

According to a press release from the Uganda Police Force, Nicholas and Mackenzie both moved to the country in 2017 and began working at the Akola Project, an organization based in Jinja that creates hand-made, locally-sourced jewelry and is aimed at empowering the women of Uganda in employment and manufacturing.

Authorities said that after moving to Uganda, the Spencers fostered three children, including the victim, from an organization called Welcome Ministry located in Jinja City. The couple later joined the Motive Creation Agency, a private company, and moved to Upper Naguru, the capital of Kampala, with their foster kids.

“It was however, realized that between the year, 2020 and December 2022, the couple constantly tortured, a one Kayima John, a 10-year-old pupil of Dawn Children’s Center in Ntinda, which attracted the attention of neighbours,” the release states. “They alerted the police at Kira Road Division and investigations commenced. 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.”

Authorities appeared to assert that at least some of the aforementioned acts of abuse were caught on camera, adding, “We believe, the victim could have endured more severe acts of torture, away from the camera.”

A caregiver for the victim spoke to Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor on the condition of anonymity and provided additional details about the Spencers alleged treatment of the 10-year-old boy.

“I wanted to leave the job, but I knew if I left without doing something about it, the torture would continue,” she reportedly told the newspaper. She also reportedly said that of the three foster children, only the victim was tortured as a means of punishment because the Spencers believed he was stubborn, overactive, and “mentally unstable.”

A lawyer representing the Spencers against the charges reportedly said that all of the charges were nothing more than a “fishing expedition” by investigators, emphasizing that the sex trafficking charge “doesn’t make sense.”

The Spencers have pleaded not guilty to the torture charge. However, they have not been able to enter a plea on the sex trafficking charge, because such cases are only heard by the High Court, a spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office reportedly told Reuters. The spokesperson reportedly added that they do not know when the process of committing the Spencers to the High Court will be finalized.

[image via YouTube screenshot]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.