Verdicts reached in Oxford murder case

At 2.17pm on Monday 22 July 2013, verdicts were delivered in the case of murdered Oxford farmworker, Sameera Battelage. The jury deliberated for a little over 3 hours.

Originally from Sri Lanka, Sameera had been working on a dairy-farm, in the Oxford farming district just outside Christchurch, when he was killed in the early hours of the morning, of Thursday 23 February 2012.

Charged with several offences related to his death, and including the arson of the rented farmhouse in which he lived, were Thuvan Prawesh Sawal and Viraj Alahakoon.

Mr Alahakoon was also facing two other charges relating to assaulting a woman and a second assault by cutting her hair, dating from December 2011. (The woman has name suppression).

The verdicts are in and it is guilty on on all charges, for both of the accused men.

Viraj Alahakoon, convicted (guilty) of two counts of assault, one count of murder and one count of arson.

Prawesh Sawal convicted (guilty) of one count of murder and one count of arson.

Both men received a warning from his honour under the “three strikes” legislation. (It’s hard not to be a bit, well perhaps I’ll say, ‘flippant’ about this. What it means is that if either man commits murder again in future, they’ll get in really BIG trouble. A ‘life’ term but without the possibility of parole, would then be possible).

The men have been remanded (not surprisingly, in custody) until 6 September for sentencing. They each face a “life” sentence.

(Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not second-guessing what sentence the judge will later impose, but just to explain that “life” sentences can vary in different jurisdictions. Under New Zealand law, and depending on what the judge sentences them to, it is likely that they will have a minimum non-parole period set, something in the region of 17 years, and possibly much longer. Then and only then will the parole-board consider them for release on parole. However release on parole is by no means automatic, and is often not granted until some years later… if ever).

His honour, Justice Christian Whata, ordered that various reports be commissioned in the meantime. I will do my utmost to be in court on the 6th of September to report what sentence he sets down and the comments he makes at the time.

Outside court, family of the victim (Sameera Battelage) were approached by some of the media present but declined to comment.

(In a way this is unfortunate as I, like so many other New Zealanders would have liked to know their views. However this will have been a particularly hard time for them, keeping in mind that many/most/perhaps even all of them, would have travelled here from Sri Lanka and that, if they speak English at all, it would be very much a second language to them. Hopefully at a later date, they will arrange to make a statement through the media, if necessary with an interpreter present. It is possible, but pure conjecture on my part, that they may have been reserving their comments for a previously arranged meeting with another media organisation. ADDED LATER… YES THEY HAD ALREADY MADE ARRANGEMENTS WITH THE PRESS NEWSPAPER/FAIRFAX FOR AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF AN INTERPRETER. Earlier in the day both Campbell Live and TV One News had vehicles parked outside the court-house. However I think they were mainly present for the first day of the judicial review, Quake Outcasts vs Gerry Brownlee and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority regarding the crown offers of ‘half the price of previous valuation’ for so called ‘Red Zone’ properties).

Lead counsel for Viraj Alahakoon was also approached as he left court. QC Pip Hall very politely, declined to comment.

(Note the judge took particular notice of the fact that English was a second language for both of the accused, and that Viraj Alahakoon’s English was less good than Prawesh Sawal’s. Also witnesses for whom English was a second-language, were offered the choice of testifying in English, or their mother tongue (some testified in a mixture of English and Sinhalese). The judge seemed to be making a special point of ensuring that court procedures were followed, such that both men would get a fair trial even though their English skills were less than a typical New Zealander’s.)

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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