String of texts tell of young dairyfarm worker’s fear for his life

Viraj Alahakoon spent a third day in the witness box under cross-examination. His most common response to anything put to him by counsel was  “no”. When he did have something else to say, it was very often “I don’t know, I didn’t see”.

Given that Mr Alahakoon spent a great deal of time with (his co-accused) Prawesh Sawal in the days leading up to the murder of Sameera Battelage, and he admits to being in the same room, apparently sleeping peacefully while Mr Battelage was being stabbed repeatedly just metres away; Mr Alahakoon, according to his testimony, didn’t see or notice very much at all. With 10 years experience as a manufacturing jeweller, I would have thought Mr Alahakoon would have had a very good eye for noticing detail.

Previously, the deceased man’s best friend Nilantha Gamarallge had given testimony about a text sent to his phone, at 10.38pm on the evening of 22 February 2012 which said “If something going wrong, Prawesh and Viraj with me. K”.

On Thursday afternoon a number of other texts were introduced into evidence as Mr Brent Stanaway, senior co-counsel for the prosecution finally had his turn cross-examining Mr Alahakoon.  It turns out that Sameera Battelage had sent that exact same text to two trusted friends. (I am sorry I missed hearing the name of the other friend). But whereas his friend Nilantha, the baker, did not notice the text he received until later the following day, by which time he had already heard of Sameera’s death; his other friend responded straight away and several texts were exchanged each way.

The texts were read out in court, obtained from either the mobile phone’s memory directly or from telephone company records.

Friend…  “What’s the problem?”

Sameera…  “I don’t know, came without telling”, “I’ve got a feeling”, “it quarter to eleven… (then some more I didn’t hear clearly)”

Friend…  “There’s nothing wrong, right?”

Friend…  (at 11.01pm)  “What’s happening ?”

Sameera…  (at 1.03am)  “not yet”

Prosecutor Brent Stanaway then put a scenario to Mr Alahakoon.

Stanaway… “The two of you atacked Sameera, you holding him, Prawesh stabbing him with a knife”

Alahakoon…”No, Never”

Stanaway…  “Sameera was a strong fit man,”

Alahakoon… “Yes”

Stanaway… “It took two of you to hold him down and attack him”

Alahakoon…  “no”

Stanaway…  “Sameera could easily fight off one of you, but not two of you”

Alahakoon…  “We never fought anyone”

Stanaway…  “You got blood on your clothes”

Alahakoon…  “I never had blood on any of my clothes”

Stananway…  (sorry I missed the question)

Alahakoon…  “We never attacked Sameera”

Stanaway…  “Well somebody did”

Alahakoon…  “I didn’t see it”.

(As this particular exchange concluded, I noticed that a number of people in the public gallery, who appeared to be of Indian or Sri Lanakan origin, had their heads bowed, perhaps they were contemplating the horror Sameera must have experienced during his last few seconds of life.)

Prosecutor Brent Stanaway then turned his attention to the knife.  Asking how large the knife was, and referring the witness to a ruler available, Mr Alahakoon  spoke for the first time in a full English sentence (previously apart from the occasional “yes”, the very common”na” and occasional modern words like “petrol”, he has spoken only in Sinhalese.

Mr Alahakoon… (in English) “this much long the blade, and this much the handle” (indicating with his hands). When Mr Stanaway asked him to indicate using the ruler available, he at first said seven inches, then added, 18 centimetres.  (I have noticed with other Sri Lankans that they are often still comfortable using the old Imperial measures, even moreso than many young Kiwis).

 

Casting doubt on Mr Alahakoon’s testimony that he had been sleeping just metres from where Sameera was and was suddenly awoken by Prawesh Sawal standing in front of him with a bloodied knife, counsel Brent Stanaway then continued…

Stanaway…  “Did you not hear the sound of a knife attack?”

Alahakoon…  “No”

Stanaway…  “Did you not hear the sound of Sameera calling ?”

Alahakoon…   “I heard nothing at all”

Stanaway…  “Five serious stab wounds and one killing wound to the neck”

Alahakoon…  “No, I didn’t hear anything”

Stanaway…  “The decision was made then to burn the house ?”

Alahakoon…  “No, there was no decision to burn the house”, “We didn’t have any need to harm Sameera or burn the house”.

Stanaway…  “The house was burned to conceal the fact that he had been harmed”

Alahakoon…  “No, I don’t know anything about that”, “I saw the house on fire”, “I didn’t know Sameera had passed away”, “I thought he was seriously hurt”.

 

 

The trial continues.

Explanatory note on names. Sometimes inconsistencies exist in names, and this can be caused by a number of factors, especially when non-European names are “Anglicised” so they can be written using a standard English alphabet. Other factors can be “tribal” names used in some cultures or names which change over the course of life. In some cultures, married women do not assume their husband’s surname and in some countries the surname or family-name goes first and the Christian or given name goes afterwards. Sometimes names can have a numeric meaning also. Much can be ‘lost in translation’. The most common language spoken in Sri Lanka is Sinhalese. This is usually written using a combination of two alphabets, which can trace their roots back thousands of years. The deceased man in the case currently before the court, has been referred to variously as Sameera Chandrasena and Sameera Madurangana Manikka Battelage. On some occasions he has been referred to as “Rassy”. The two co-accused’s full names are listed as Thuvan Prawesh Sawal and Mudijanselage Viraj Wasantha Alahakoon. No offence is intended to any culture, or individual person with respect to the Anglicisation and use of names. )

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