If it was up to Bombo residents, Private Patrick Okot Odoch would be a dead man. But the law took hold and, instead, Okot is fighting for his life in a wooden dock, under a tent, as witnesses retell how he allegedly shot and killed 11 people, on March 8, 2013.
The UPDF soldier is on trial before the General Court Martial, chaired by Brig Fred Tolit, at Bombo Health Centre IV. He faces 10 counts of murder, aggravated robbery and four charges of attempted murder and failing to protect people.
Among Okot’s victims were five soldiers and their relatives. When he is handed a litre of splash juice to drink, residents protest, asking why court is treating him with kindness.
“They should give him tap water. He killed many people and left many children orphaned...Imagine he raped a girl and killed her parents...,” says Juliet Namusoke.
On Wednesday, court heard from prosecution witness number 12, Godfrey Nshekanabo, that on March 7, Okot met friends at his home in the evening for a chat.
Nshekanabo and Okot were neighbours at Mpakawero Main in Bombo town. Sometimes they even shared meals. At the time, Okot was smoking and seemed disturbed.
“When he joined us, I asked him why he was wearing his uniform. It was unusual for him to put on uniform at the time because he [usually] changed into civilian wear in the evening. He told me he was on duty. I again asked him, ‘Today you have been deployed at night? I have never seen you do such duties’.
He said that ‘military duties have no time; you can be assigned anytime’. I observed that he was not in his usual moods; he was not a happy man. When I asked him, he said that he was a bit disturbed,” Nshekanabo told court in Kiswahili. Okot would tell Nshekanabo that he was in the mood to cause some mayhem.
“He said he had been disturbed by some people at Mama Jackie’s bar. He was accused of having sexual intercourse with a young girl. That people found him naked in a room with the girl; beat him and broke his testicles. He said he wanted to do something and had already acquired a gun with three magazines of bullets,” Nshekanabo told court.
The girl being talked about is Sergeant Onesimus Andiru’s daughter. On March 8, Sgt Andiru reported the matter to police. Okot was tipped off that the police had opened up a case of rape against him. He was not amused and decided to silence his accusers and kill off all the evidence.
Nshekanabo continued: “I said please leave those things, those are problems of the world. I advised him to report to police. He said he was very angry and wanted to commit a crime. After talking to Okot, he appeared to calm down and he joined us. He was talking about his bush war stories while still with [Joseph] Kony.”
Nshekanabo told court that on many occasions, Okot would recount to his friends his days as a soldier in the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. He would tell of how they cut off people’s heads using hoes.
Okot only joined the UPDF after he had been captured. At about midnight, Nshekanabo heard gunshots in the distance not far from his house. Residents say that Okot went to Mama Jackie’s bar and demanded that Sgt Andiru and his wife come out, but Mama Jackie insisted that Okot should stop disturbing her customers.
Other revellers demanded to know why he wanted Andiru. So, he shot everyone in the bar. When a passerby asked him what was going on, he shot him too. He then moved to another location at Gogonya and gunned down a man.
After that, no one, not even the nearby police came in to check what was going on. Back at his home, Nshekanabo and Ambrose heard someone opening Okot’s house. They went out to check.
“We wondered that if Okot is at work, who is opening his door? So, we woke up slowly and we saw smoke coming out of his house. We heard someone moving things as if somebody was hurriedly packing. We saw someone wearing uniform similar to Okot’s. We went back to our house and after a short while we heard somebody walk out of Okot’s house,” Nshekanabo told court.
Then on March 9, residents woke up to a gruesome scene of blood and bullet strewn dead bodies scattered on the floor of the one-room bar. At 9am Nshekanabo was buying soap when a woman gave him the sad news of the slaughter of their colleagues. He rushed to the bar.
“I saw Obote’s body lying in front of the bar. I told my friend ‘people have been killed and yet yesterday Okot said he had three magazines of bullets, couldn’t this be Okot?’ When carrying the bodies outside, I saw the body of Mama Jackie and I was hurt,” Nshekanabo said.
He said when he went back to Okot’s house, he found an empty house. He reported the incident to police. Another woman, Rukita Atima, told court that Okot had robbed her of her money and mobile phone, saying he was looking for money to escape to Sudan to avoid arrest.
Corporal Friday Mudau, a trained gunner, told court that Okot disappeared from his guard post that night. He had never imagined that Okot could carry out such an act because he was a very good soldier. He was not involved in any dubious activity except that deadly, dark night. Court resumes on Monday.