We’re getting down to the business end of the trial now, and Tuesday morning (9 July) was Mr Viraj Alahakoon’s time to step up into the witness box. With his court approved interpreter at his side, translating every question and every answer, progress is painfully slow.
Sometimes despite the interpreter’s best efforts, things did seem to get lost-in-translation, and questions had to be re-worded and asked again. I have heard it said that Mr Sawal has better English than his co-accused so if he responds to questions in English then the trial may speed up a bit.
After spending all of Tuesday in the witness box, Mr Alahakoon was there again all day Wednesday as well, however court progress was particularly slow that day.
Only a few minutes after returning from the lunch break, the jury were sent out while counsel for the accused discussed legal matters with the judge for more than an hour, and counsel then had a break to take further instruction from their clients.
The court was ready to resume just in time for afternoon tea-break. When court resumed after the break the jury were again excluded for a short period of legal argument.
One of the things that did come out yesterday was clarification about an earlier incident Mr Alahakoon had been involved in. He had earlier admitted to brandishing a blunt butter-knife at a woman. During his time in the witness box on Wednesday he admitted it might well have been a large sharp-pointed kitchen carving knife, and admitted that he had thrown it, it falling to the floor short of the woman’s feet (although he claimed he did not remember the incident clearly).
Mr Alahakoon seemed to be having a lot of trouble with his memory recalling things yesterday. Co-counsel for Prawesh Sawal (Andrew McCormick) suggested on a couple at those times that the reason Mr Alahakoon was having trouble remembering, was because he was making things up. Mr Alahakoon however denied that.
Some things are becoming clearer as the trial moves forward. A petrol container had previously been at Mr Alahakoon’s St Albans home. It was said to have been used earlier to fill a motor-scooter with two-stroke fuel and also a lawnmower.
On Monday evening, 20 February 2012, Mr Alahakoon and Mr Sawal drove to the farmhouse outside Oxford township where the deceased, Mr Battelage lived. The door was unlocked and lights on, but no-one was at home. It was explained that, it is common in some rural areas, that farmhouses maybe left unlocked as various other farm workers may need to go inside. After knocking they went inside calling out loudly but nobody was home. They waited a while (the actual time was disputed as to whether it was about an hour, or just five minutes) and then left, driving back to Christchurch.
They drove out to Oxford again on the evening of the 22 of February, and suggested they watch the end of the 20-20 cricket match together. The Sky TV in the house was not working so it was decided that they go to the Oxford Workingmen’s Club and watch the rest of the match on the big screen there.. Mr Battelage quickly got cleaned up and changed. They returned to the farmhouse after the telecast had finished and Mr Battelage went into the kitchen and prepared food for them all.
Mr Alahakoon was in broad agreement that that was how the events on the night had begun. Although there was some disagreement or confusion at least about the food preparation.
Counsel for Mr Sawal then put to Mr Alahakoon a further scenario (remember this is all being presented just a short piece at a time, to enable the interpreter to translate each question or statement and each response).
It was put to Mr Alahakoon that sometime around 2.30 am that Mr Battelage settled into the sofa to get an hour’s sleep (as he needed to be up at 3.30am to start work on the dairy-farm). The TV was left switched on, although the loungeroom light was off. Mr Sawal being a heavy smoker was going outside on the porch for a cigarette quite often. The door onto the porch was left open, being a warm summer night, but curtains were pulled closed to deter moths from flying inside. On one occasion when Mr Sawal was outside smoking he suddenly heard a noise and saw through the crack in the curtain that Mr Alahakoon had his hands apparently around the neck of Mr Battelage. Mr Sawal ran inside and tried to separate them, getting blood on his clothes and his hands. It was only then he saw a knife handle, the blade buried up to the hilt in Mr Battelage’s neck. Mr Alahakoon allegedly then threatened Mr Sawal with the knife and ordered him to help clean up, before pouring petrol over the deceased and throughout the house, setting fire to it just before they left to drive back to Christchurch. As each sentence was translated, as the scenario above was described by counsel, Mr Alahakoon emphatically denied it.
The trial continues.