American couple may face death penalty for torturing foster child in Uganda

An American couple living in Uganda accused of torturing their 10-year-old foster child could face the death penalty if convicted of their latest charge, prosecutors said.

Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both 32, were arrested and charged earlier this month with aggravated torture, which carries a life sentence if convicted, for alleged abuse spanning two years.

PHOTO: American couple Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both 32, stand in the dock at Buganda Road Court, where they were accused of torturing a 10-year-old, in Kampala, Uganda, on December 14, 2022.

American couple Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both 32, stand in the dock at Buganda Road Court, where they were accused of torturing a 10-year-old, in Kampala, Uganda, on December 14, 2022.

Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters

This week, they were also charged with aggravated child trafficking, which carries the death penalty if convicted, Joan Keko, a lawyer with the Ugandan state attorney general’s office, confirmed to ABC News.

The Spencers previously pleaded not guilty to the charge of aggravated torture, the Associated Press reported. They will be able to plead the new charge when the case moves to a higher court, according to the AP.

The two are being held at a maximum security prison in Luzira, a suburb of the capital Kampala, and were not granted bail after being determined to be a flight risk, Keko said.

The couple allegedly “constantly tortured” the foster child between 2020 and 2022, which “attracted the attention of neighbours”, who notified the Kampala Metropolitan Police, according to a Uganda Police Force statement.

PHOTO: American couple Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both 32, stand in the dock at Buganda Road Court, where they were accused of torturing a 10-year-old, in Kampala, Uganda, on December 14, 2022.

American couple Nicholas Spencer and Mackenzie Leigh Mathias Spencer, both 32, stand in the dock at Buganda Road Court, where they were accused of torturing a 10-year-old, in Kampala, Uganda, on December 14, 2022.

Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters

The child was reportedly locked in an empty room, without clothes, food or water, and a medical report showed impact marks on his body, according to Kampala Metropolitan spokesman Luke Owoyesigire.

Police received video evidence from a neighbor and a nurse who checked on the child, a police source in Kampala told ABC News.

The Spencers are originally from South Carolina, according to Keko. They moved to Uganda in 2017 as volunteers, police said.

The couple adopted three children in 2018, including the one they allegedly tortured, from an organization called Welcome Ministry in Jinja City, police said. The couple then joined a private company and moved to Upper Naguru, a district in Kampala, police said.

Their work permits expired in 2021, according to Keko.

ABC News’ Kevin Shalvey and Guy Davies contributed to this report.

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