Two Sri Lankan men who planned and carried out an "execution style" murder in retribution for a love affair have been jailed for life terms of at least 17 years.
The two had been convicted at a trial in July, with the jury finding them both guilty of what the Crown described as "an execution type" slashing of the throat of their countryman, Sameera Madurangana Manikka Battelage, on February 23, 2012.
Thuvan Prawesh Sawal, 24, and 35-year-old Mudiyanselage Viraj Wasantha Alahakoon, a jeweller, were both convicted of murder and arson at the end of the 21-day trial. Alahakoon was also convicted of assaulting a woman with scissors by cutting her long hair, and assaulting her.
The trial was told that Battelage had had a sexual relationship with a woman that Alahakoon knew. The woman gave evidence at the trial before Justice Christian Whata.
Evidence was given that Battelage had died of a series of wounds to the throat and chest before his body and the house where he lived on a farm at Oxford were set alight using petrol that had been taken along by the two attackers.
The two had gone with Battelage to the Oxford Workingmen's Club where they were recorded on security video arriving, drinking together, and watching cricket on television on the night of the murder.
Crown prosecutor Brent Stanaway said it was a planned and premeditated murder. There had even been a "dry run" by the two accused, travelling to Oxford with petrol taken along, a few days before the murder, when they found he was not home.
Arson of the farm house, to destroy forensic evidence, was a serious aggravating factor because of the impact it had on the house's owners, he said.
Defence counsel for Alahakoon, Pip Hall QC, said provocation was still in the background as a factor in the case. He said there had been an "execution style slashing of the throat" but the intention to kill may have only been formed close to the time of the act taking place.
Defence counsel for Sawal, John Brandts-Giesen, said his client had no significant motive for the murder, and there had been a suggestion that he had been "encouraged by Alahakoon into this murderous transaction".
His client would be deported at the end of his sentence.
Chris Reilly, who owns the Oxford Pastures dairy property with his wife, told of trying to enter the burning house to try to rescue his farm employee, Battelage, but being driven back by the smoke and heat.
He described the farmworker as a gentle and kind person with an affinity for animals.
He told the court: "We struggled with the knowledge that such an evil act was committed against such a gentle person."
Nilantha Chandrasena, Battelage's 34-year-old brother who has New Zealand residency, told of the impact of the murder on the family.
"It feels very lonely being here without him," he said. He had been unable to see his brother to say goodbye to him, because he had been burnt in the fire.
Justice Whata said the two men had been close friends. They had blamed each other at trial for the murder and arson.
Alahakoon continued to deny the murder and arson at his pre-sentence interview, and still blamed Sawal.
Sawal had acknowledged links to the Mongrel Mob, and had been involved in four incidents of assault in prison.
At their sentencing in the High Court at Christchurch today, Justice Whata imposed terms of life imprisonment on both men, with minimum non-parole terms of 17 years.
He said the non-parole term was warranted because of the degree of planning, and because of the callousness and brutality of the murder. He said it the murder had been "clearly calculated" though the planning had been incompetent.
He said he believed the evidence meant it was open to him to conclude that Sawal delivered the fatal cut to the throat, but the men were equally culpable in a planned endeavour.
Aspects of the case remain suppressed.
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