John Brandts-Giesen, on of the two co-counsel for Prawesh Sawal, opened by asking the jury to “assess Sawal’s role in this sad episode”. “the death of Sameera Battelage and the destruction of his house, are, by any standards, sad. He did not deserve that fate.”
He went on to say that “friends do not kill friends, unless there is a motive that far outweighs that friendship”. and he claimed the crown’s theory of a motive for Prawesh was “ill conceived”.
He said that a red petrol container had indeed been in the car on Monday, picked up at Viraj’s request by Prawesh as he’d forgotten it earlier. Viraj had said he wanted it for his lawnmower. Prawesh had not seen any petrol container in the car on Wednesday evening, until he saw Viraj emptying the contents of a white “disinfectant container” over Sameera and the couch.
Prawesh was not consumed by the affair, as the crown had earlier claimed, “it was none of his business”.
Regarding how Sameera, while on a video-call using Skype on his iPhone, had made a special point of introducing Prawesh and Viraj and turning the camera around to show their faces, counsel Brandts-Giesen said this was simply a new etiquette being increasingly followed as video-calls were becoming more common. Nothing untoward should be read into that.
If Sameera had really been nervous and in fear of his life, then during the time they were all at the Oxford Workingmen’s Club, he could have stayed in that public place, surrounded by witnesses, and made his fears known to any of the several people there, who he would have known.
At this point he spoke out against the deceased, saying that Sameera had been losing his way as an employee for some time. (This referred to some earlier evidence submitted at the beginning of the trial and accepted by consent of counsel).
He referred to all the men as being hard drinkers who kept long hours, but it was important not to judge them simply because their lifestyle was different to many others in society.
Prawesh he said “was a 22-year-old, happy-go-lucky young man”. Brandts-Giesen went on to say that Prawesh didn’t have a “past” and that he was trying to make a new home for himself in this country and was “behaving himself”.It was accepted he had told lies to the police, and counsel said he’d speak to the jury about that later in his address.
“I put it to you, that Prawesh’s story may well be right” he told the jury. “Prawesh’s story is capable of belief, or at least, reasonable doubt”.
Prawesh did not kill Sameera, nor was he asked by Viraj to help kill.
Referring to various “admitted facts”. Counsel said that that must not be taken as any admission of guilt to the charges themselves. Crown cases often amount to hundreds of pages of evidence, he said, and it was normal defence practice to accept those things which were “straightforward and not in dispute”. Otherwise we’d all be here until Christmas, he said.
Counsel Brandts-Giesen then mentioned Viraj’s earlier admission of threatening to kill with a knife. Although this was a year or so before the killing of Sameera, it showed something of his character and “Viraj’s propensity to threaten with a knife… and to develop a rage in regard to personal issues.”
Prawesh didn’t have to give evidence, but “he wanted you to hear and understand the story”. Yes he had lied to police officers during the investigation, but that was a totally different kettle of fish to what would e the serious offence of perjury in a court.
The police were dishonest too, in the early stages of the investigation, consel said. Police had only allowed Prawesh’s partner to visit with him at the police station if she wore a ‘wire’. A hidden listening device. One could assume that they had been hopeful of overhearing a confession. They didn’t get one, although they did get to hear him claim to her that he had been “bait”. He later made the same claims to police in his official statement.
Detective Fiona Roberts had initially said that they were unconcerned abut his expired visa status, but then detained him on that very basis. Counsel then made reference to the old Biblical quote about him who is without any sin, being the one to cast the first stone.
It was preposturous to even suggest that Prawesh had taken Sameera’s passport and some other legal papers.
(Note Sameera’s passport and various other papers were never found. They might have been completely destroyed by the house-fire but they might also have been taken by someone before the fire was lit. Sameera’s passport contained a visa which was still valid for another year or more).
At the police station, the police arranged for Prawesh to have access to a lawyer. Mr Davis turned up to speak with Prawesh, but under the circumstances he didn’t trust him. To Prawesh he looked like just another policeman. The only lawyer Prawesh would trust was the immigration specialist he had been dealing with, based in Auckland. In due course, that lawyer was contacted and arranged for counsel Andrew Mccormick to represent Prawesh here in Christchurch.
Prawesh, his counsel said, was “desperately trying to stay here, because, for him, it is a better country than Sri Lanka.” He was living “under the radar”, “limiting his driving of cars, doing nothing illegal” he claimed.
Prawesh did not have any motive to kill Sameera.Viraj claimed he did not blame Viraj and that all the blame lie with the woman involved, but just believable was that ?
It was only under cross-examination that Viraj eventually admitted that the blunt butter knife that he originally said he threatened a woman with, was quite possibly a sharp-pointed kitchen carving knife.
Counsel then turned his attention to Viraj’s story that he had enlisted Prawesh to speak on his behalf to Sameera about the (previous) affair. John Brandts-Giesen pointed out that it’s almost laughable to suggest a man in his thirties would seek the advice and assistance of a man 10 years his junior, for help with his love-life. 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. )