Kenyan resident of Toronto sentenced to life in prison for poisoning toddler

Francis Ngugi will spend life in prison with no chance of parole for 17 years

Francis Ngugi, a 47-year-old sanitation worker who put a poisonous chemical in a cereal container, killing a Scarborough toddler in March 2021, has been sentenced to life in prison with a parole ineligibility period of 17 years.

In handing down her sentence Friday, Justice Maureen Forestell accepted the joint position submitted by the Crown and defence at a sentencing hearing Thursday, saying the killing of a child demands a sentence that serves the objective of denunciation and deterrence.

Ngugi, who pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Bernice Wamala in September, sat with his head down in the prisoner’s box as the judge summarized the horrific facts of the case.

“Ngugi, in the time leading up to the death, became obsessed with Zahra Issa, a woman with whom he had a dating relationship. She rejected him, he stalked her, surreptitiously recorded her and continued to try to convince her to have a relationship…. She considered him a friend,” Forestell said.

On the night of March 6, 2021, Maurine Merimbe left her daughter in the care of her friend. But unbeknownst to Issa, Ngugi had stolen a deadly poison and placed it in the breakfast cereal, and Issa fed the cereal to the children. Bernice became severely ill, suffering several seizures and two heart attacks, and died in hospital as her mother watched.

“She was an innocent child who was robbed of her life. Not only that, she died in a terrible and no-doubt terrifying manner,” Forestell said.

Issa and her daughter were taken to a different hospital. Thankfully, she survived. Forestell said after Bernice’s death, Ngugi renewed his efforts to have a relationship with Issa.

“He knew the sodium nitrite was likely to cause death. He knew the children were present. He was reckless in leaving the poison in the cereal,” the judge concluded.

Forestell said it was aggravating that the offence was not one that occurred spontaneously but was part of a course to punish Issa, and after the children got sick, Ngugi failed to take steps that could have assisted medical responders.

Ngugi will also be added to the national DNA databank, was given a lifetime weapons ban and was ordered to have no contact with the Mirembe, Issa and their families.

Outside court, Mirembe said she is grateful for the sentence but continues to feel pain over the loss of her daughter.

She described the last two years since Bernice’s death as being horrible and she continues to wonder how Ngugi can say he’s sorry for what he’s done.

“I remember last time when we came here and he pled guilty. He was like, ‘Sorry, Maurine.’ Sorry for what? Because being sorry when you didn’t tell me why you’re sorry … I’m not going to say, like, ‘OK, you’re forgiven’ because you were in the hospital that day, the day Bernice passed on and also you knew what you did. It’s like you put the poison for this baby and you didn’t tell and you were in the hospital,” Mirembe said.

“So it’s like, he’s so evil because at least he could tell, he could explain to the hospital, ‘OK guys, I know what I did this, about the kids, please try to do something to save these kids.’”

She wants Bernice to be remembered as a jolly girl who could make you feel happy and comfortable.


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