The assistant to an American reality TV producer who died after taking contaminated cocaine in Uganda pleaded guilty to illicit drug use in a Kampala courtroom and was freed to return to South Africa after paying a fine.
Katheryne Fuller, 29, sat in a wheelchair wearing a hospital gown Thursday, still paralyzed on her right side as her lawyer asked the judge for leniency. Press cameras outside the courthouse captured starkly different pictures of Fuller from those posted on her Facebook page in which she poses glamorously.
On Feb. 17, staff at the luxury Serena Hotel in Kampala found Fuller and her boss, 39-year-old freelance producer Jeff Rice, motionless on a balcony. Both were rushed to a hospital where Rice was declared dead.
Fuller’s attorney, Paul Rutisya, said her sentence is not uncommon for the crime. She was given the choice of either six months in prison or a $420 fine.
“This should be looked at as a second chance being given to the accused who is alive by God’s chance,” Judge Sylvia Nabaggala said according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper.
Fuller’s relatives told ABC News after slowly regaining consciousness, she struggled to speak again. When she was well enough to talk to police, they say she admitted the drug use, dispelling speculation by some friends that she and Rice were poisoned because of work on an investigative documentary.
Tests showed both had cocaine in their systems, and Ugandan police said they were sickened by a “lethal additive” in the drug. Fuller told police they bought the drugs from a taxi driver who was later arrested. Moses Kalanzi, 23, pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and drug distribution charges. Police say he will remain in prison until at least his next court hearing on March 15.
Rice’s family is planning to hold a memorial service for him next week in Durban, South Africa where he lived with his wife, Sally Blackman, and two children, ages 7 and 2.
Rice was a veteran producer who worked on the latest season of the hit reality-TV series “The Amazing Race” and the Emmy-nominated Animal Planet series “Whale Wars.” Shortly after his death, his wife posted this message on her Facebook page: “To my dear husband Jeff – tragically you left this world and only time will heal the void that you leave behind. Rest in peace my darling.”