Oshakati High Court judges Herman January and Marlene Tommasi last week raised the length of prison sentence of a woman convicted of stabbing her one-day-old baby boy 42 times with a pair of scissors from four years to seven years.
Peneyambeko Nghimbwasha was convicted of murder, read with the provisions of the Combating of Domestic Violence Act, for killing her newborn baby by stabbing him 42 times all over his body in a toilet at Endombo Compound in Tsumeb on June 21, 2012.
She was sentenced in the Oshakati Regional Court on September 15, 2016 to eight years’ imprisonment, of which four years were suspended on condition she is not convicted of murder, read with the provisions of the Combating of Domestic Violence Act.
The State – not satisfied with the sentence – appealed to the High Court. State Advocate Taodagog called the sentence shockingly inappropriate when considered against sentences imposed for similar offences in the High Court.
He further contended the magistrate erred when he overemphasised the personal circumstances of the accused and attached little or no weight to the seriousness of the offence and the interest of society.
Judge January, who wrote the judgment, said while it was at the discretion of a trial court to impose sentence, a court of appeal may interfere when the sentence is so severe or lenient that it induces a sense of shock. In his view, the sentence in this case was too lenient.
“There is no doubt that the unlawful killing of infants is not less serious than that of other children and adults; and a newborn baby has the same right to life and protection under the Constitution as any other person on Namibian soil would have,” Judge January ruled.
He asserted the courts have the duty to uphold law and order and to protect the rights of others in society through its decisions and sentences, especially where the vulnerable – such as the elderly, women and children – have fallen prey to criminality.
He said the courts have repeatedly stated that judges would not shy away from their duty by sending accused persons, guilty of serious crimes, such as murder, rape and robbery, to prison for considerably long periods.
“Murder has always been viewed by the courts in a serious light and usually, only in exceptional circumstances, would this offence not attract a lengthy custodial sentence,” he noted.
But, he said, in cases of infanticide, courts experience a difficulty to mete out appropriate sentences and there is a tendency to treat such cases with leniency. With regard to this case, the judge said there was no evidence before court on the state of mind of Nghimbwasha when she committed the crime, or her motive.
“In my view, the motive for the murder is in all probability because her father is a strict person and she was afraid that he may not approve of the pregnancy and or baby,” the judge said. However, he said, the manner in which she inflicted the injuries was brutal and calls for a lengthy custodial sentence.
Judge January sentenced Nghimbwasha to ten years in prison, of which three years were suspended for a period of five years on condition that she is not convicted of a similar offence during the period of suspension. Her sentence was ante-dated to September 15, 2016.