John Brandts-Giesen, lead counsel for the defence of Thuval Prawesh Sawal, opened his defence of Mr Sawal by telling the jury that Sawal had been “on his best behaviour” in the time leading up to the attack and subsequent death of Sameera Battelage.
Counsel pointed out that the co-accused Viraj Alahakoon (was the sort of person who… ) had already pled guilty to an unrelated charge of “threatening to kill”. He had, Mr Brandts-Giesen claimed, used Mr Sawal as “bait” in his plan to kill Sameera.
Co-counsel Andrew McCormick then took over and called Prawesh Sawal to the stand, to testify in his own defence. Mr Sawal wanted to give his answers in English however the judge made it clear that he could use Sinhalese language at any time if he needed to. For the benefit of co-accused Viraj Alahakoon, all questions and replies were still translated by the court appointed interpreter.
Giving some background details to his life, speaking confidently in, if not perfect, at least ‘very good’ English, Mr Sawal described how he did fairly well in school at Sri Lanka and then went on to train as a personal trainer and worked in a gym for three years. However the wages in Sri Lanka were very low, and he was able to move to New Zealand in search of a better life.
His family raised some NZ $ 17,000 for the costs, including $ 14,000 for a computer course in Auckland. Arriving on a student visa in 2009, Mr Sawal only completed two months of the year-long course, after talking to previous graduates who said the qualification gained was not worth having and wouldn’t lead to worthwhile employment.
It was during that time that he met, who he described as “a very nice woman” called Karen Rogers. A genuine relationship developed and he applied for a new visa on the grounds of his relationship with her.
Things were going swimmingly (well) for awhile, during which time the pair re-located to Christchurch and he worked as a kitchen-hand at Christ’s College for about a year. He would often send money back home to Sri Lanka to his mother.
In April 2010 they got married. However after the September 2010, Karen was, like many people, in somewhat of a state of shock and moved back to Auckland where she had family connections
Prawesh said that they maintained a long-distance relationship at first, with him visiting Auckland or Karan visiting Christchurch periodically. Mr Sawal though went on to meet another woman in Christchurch, through an internet dating site just a month or two after Karen returned to Auckland.
The woman (who has name suppression) he described as a “good person”. She was very much older than Sawal and had three adult daughters, of almost the same age as Sawal (who was 22-years-old at the time). Initially Karen in Auckland did not know about the other woman in Christchurch. However come a time that Mr Sawal’s relationship visa was near to expiring, and he went back up to Auckland for awhile so they could be living at the same address together (a condition of the visa).
It was during that time, that Karen found a text on his phone. Unsurprisingly she got angry and told him to move out.
Back in Christchurch, Mr Sawal moved into the Burwood home of the other woman, living with her and her three grown daughters. However the house was badly damaged by the 22 February 2013 earthquake and they all had to shift temporarily into a caravan park in Blenheim Road. Later they moved to a rental flat in Manchester Street Saint Albans.
Prawesh Sawal told how the deceased, Sameera Battelage, was the first Sri Lankan he met in Christchurch back in the time he was living with Karen they would meet up about once a week for drinks. It was through Sameera that he was introduced to many more members of the Sri Lankan community in Christchurch.
Mr Sawal said it started when they had simply bumped into each other at a Pak ‘n Save supermarket one day, and started talking to each other and it went from there.
By the time his visa actually expired, Mr Sawal was working at Firth’s concrete block division so he left voluntarily. As an ‘over-stayer’ on the advice of his Auckland based lawyer, he was “laying low” while she sorted through his paperwork to apply for a new visa.
It was Sameera who first introduced Sawal to Viraj Alahakoon, and with Viraj living just five minutes away by bicycle, Prawesh visited him most days about lunchtime. Mr Sawal is a large man and spent mornings at the Manchester flat he shared, exercising and weightlifting with his own equipment.
Mr Sawal explains that he limited his driving during that time, as he was afraid if the police pulled him over, a check of records would show he was an illegal over-stayer. Occasionally he would go with his new partner (name suppressed on trips to visit her relatives in Greymouth or Queenstown.
It was some time after the big earthquake in February 2011, that Sameera got drunk and admitted to a number of people that he had had an affair with a woman who was known to Mr Alahakoon (she also has name suppression).
“He didn’t took the affair seriously, it was just casual for him” Mr Sawal said. Later Mr Sawal made a tentative approach to the same woman via a text message and received a positive response. “She was keen” for it he said. However as it turned out, nothing ever happened between Mr Sawal and the woman.
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. )