A South Carolina couple living in Uganda, recently accused of torturing their 10-year-old foster son, has also been charged with aggravated child trafficking, multiple outlets report. If convicted, they face the death penalty.
Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer, both 32, have lived and worked in the Kampala, Uganda, area since 2017 after moving there to do humanitarian work.
In 2018, they took in three foster children from a local Christian ministry. According to a Dec. 13 Ugandan police statement, the Spencers allegedly kept their 10-year-old foster son “barefoot and naked throughout the day,” and would sometimes allegedly force him to “squat in an awkward position.” They also allegedly made him sleep on a bare wooden platform without a mattress or bedding.
A caregiver for the child told local paper The Daily Monitor that the Spencers allegedly kept the child confined to a small tiled room. They allegedly kept him home from school and had a camera monitoring him at all times. “We believe the victim could have endured more severe acts of torture, away from the camera,” the Dec. 13 police statement asserts.
“I wanted to leave the job, but I knew if I left without doing something about it, the torture would continue,” the caregiver alleged to the Monitor. Police became involved after neighbors reportedly grew concerned about the child’s condition.
The American couple has been in custody since Dec. 9. At a recent hearing, prosecutor Joan Keko claimed they were a “flight risk” due to their lack of local ties or family. Because of the severity of the charges against them, she said, “Their likelihood to abscond from bail is really, really high.”
The couple’s lawyer reportedly told the Agence France-Presse that the new aggravated child trafficking charge “doesn’t make sense” because “last time we were in court, the state said that inquiries are complete.”
On a 2019 GoFundMe page she created to raise funds for her “joint and spinal issues,” Mackenzie Spencer wrote that she “moved to East Africa nearly 3 years ago with my husband, Nick, and we have been doing humanitarian work focused on women’s empowerment and education. We are also foster parents to 3 incredible children.”
A Department of State spokesperson previously told PEOPLE, “We are aware of reports of the arrest and detention of two U.S. citizens in Kampala. We are monitoring the situation. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time.”
The couple pleaded not guilty to the preliminary charges against them, per multiple reports. They have not yet entered a plea on the child trafficking charge.
The Spencers’ lawyer, Leila Saaliwulide, could not immediately be reached. PEOPLE contacted the Uganda Police Force but did not hear back right away.