Both accused 'stunned' by killing

05:38, Jul 18 2013
murder 2 std
MURDER-ACCUSED: Thuvan Prawesh Sawal.

Both men accused in the Oxford murder trial say they were "stunned" to see their Sri Lankan countryman killed in a knife attack, and have closed their cases accusing each other of the fatal assault.

The Crown says they had a plan and a joint intention to carry out the killing.

The jury will be asked tomorrow to begin its deliberations and decide what happened in the farmhouse at Domain Rd, Oxford, early on February 23, 2012.

ON TRIAL: Mudiyanselage Viraj Wasantha Alahakoon.

The jury heard closing addresses from both defence teams in the High Court in Christchurch today, the 19th day of the trial before Justice Christian Whata who will sum up the case tomorrow.

Thuvan Prawesh Sawal, 24, and Mudiyanselage Viraj Wasantha Alahakoon, 35, a jeweller, are jointly charged with the murder of 28-year-old dairy farm worker Sameera Madurangana Manikka Battelage, 28, and the arson of the house at Oxford where he lived.

Alahakoon also denies charges of assaulting a woman, and assaulting her by cutting her long hair with scissors, on separate dates in December 2011.


Counsel for Alahakoon, Pip Hall, QC, suggested to the jury that the key to deciding the appropriate verdict was to consider whether it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt who had cut Battelage's throat.

The evidence suggested that the throat cutting had been done by only one person, and Alahakoon's team said that person was Sawal.

The massive amount of projected blood on Sawal's clothing proved that he had been been very close to the source of the blood.

Alahakoon - who said he was asleep and woke to find that Sawal had committed the killing and was wild-eyed and covered in blood - had no blood on his own clothing and no injuries on his arms or face.

He suggested that Sawal wanted Battelage out of the way because he saw him as "a barrier to his own romantic designs".

Sometime in 2011, Sawal had become infatuated with the same woman that Battelage had had a sexual relationship with.

There had been no evidence that Alahakoon had "procured" Sawal to commit murder or arson. His evidence was that he took up Sawal's offer to confront Battelage about the affair with the woman, Hall said.

"He wanted that to happen. He could not bring himself to challenge [Battelage] himself."

Hall also questioned why, if Alahakoon had a plan to kill Battelage on the night of February 22, he had suggested that the three of them go to watch a cricket match on television at the Oxford Working Men's Club, where their visit was recorded on security cameras.

Defence lawyers for both accused said their clients were "stunned" when they found that the other accused had committed the killing.

Sawal's counsel, John Brandts-Giesen, told the jury it should not judge Sawal by what he did next.

He said his client had visa problems and had been living his life "under the radar" as an overstayer.

He urged the jury: "Don't be surprised if he acted in a way to confound the police rather than simply to tell his story.

"Don't judge him by how he acted afterwards," Brandts-Giesen said.

"Heroes are rare and many people behave badly after trauma."

He discounted the Crown's theory that his client had a motive for the killing - that both men had been "consumed" by a sexual relationship that Battelage had with a woman they knew.

"The Crown's theory is defective," Brandts-Giesen said.

He said the relationship provided a motive for the other accused, Alahakoon, but that was no affair of Sawal's "and he did not make it his affair".

"It may well have been that [Sawal] had had a mild sexual interest in [the woman] as any man has for a pretty woman," Brandts-Giesen said.

There had been text messages, and he had seen the way she behaved to him and spoke to him. Sawal decided that it was too much for him and he had pulled back.

He said the petrol container that had travelled in the car to Oxford on the men's first trip, two days before the murder, had been there for an innocent purpose - to fuel a lawn mower. Sawal was not aware of it being in the car on the second trip, when the murder was committed.

Sawal had believed that things might become heated between Alahakoon and Battelage, but he had no knowledge that any unlawful act would be committed by Alahakoon.

Brandts-Giesen said Alahakoon had talked of beating up Battelage, but he was a "blowhard" with a habit of mouthing off and saying things that no-one expected he would do.

He said Battelage's texts sent that night, in which he referred to "nothing happening yet", could have referred to the verbal attack that he might have expected and deserved.

Sawal gave evidence that he was outside the house, smoking a cigarette on the decking, when he saw that Alahakoon had attacked the victim.

"Just because there were two of them at the scene doesn't mean they both did it," Brandts-Giesen said.

"Just because [Sawal] had blood on his watch and his clothing doesn't mean he is the murderer."

The Crown gave its closing address to the jury yesterday.