ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 33

Murder over paddy land

By SSP Ananda Jayasena (Retd.)

On the night of April 5, 1971, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) cadres attacked several police stations in the country. One of the worst-affected areas was the Matara district, where all personnel from police stations in Kamburupitiya, Hakmana, Akuressa, Mawarala and Deniyaya were withdrawn and brought to the Matara Headquarters on the 8th.

On the night of April 9, the insurgents burnt down the Akuressa Police Station. Army reinforcements arrived in Matara on April 15 and the Akuressa Police Station was re-opened at the Akuressa Rest House on the same evening.

During this period, I was the Inspector-in-charge of the Akuressa Police Station and on April 16 around 10.30 a.m., Sergeant Denipitiya brought before me an elderly woman of about 65. She complained that her husband had been killed in their village of Eramudugoda on the 10th and the body was still there. She cited her 12-year-old grand-daughter Rani as the witness. The elderly woman's name was Lansina.

Eramudugoda was a hot-bed of insurgents and we were wondering whether the complaint was a trap. However, I got Denipitiya to record the statement of the woman.

According to her statement, she lived in a hut with her husband Lairis and Rani. On the 10 th around 8 a.m., her husband's first cousins, John and Handy, both armed with guns had come to their house and shot dead Lairis. The motive, Lansina gave was a dispute over a paddy field.

Accompanied by an army platoon, we left for the scene of the alleged crime and reached Eramudugoda in two hours. The bloated body of a well-built man was in the compound of the house, which was surrounded by paddy fields. The closest neighbouring house was about a quarter mile away in an uncleared garden, with scrub jungle all around. The area had been under heavy rain for several days.

I made my observations and got Sergeant Denipitiya to record the statement of the only witness, Rani. Then, leaving the sergeant at the scene, I proceeded to the Matara Magistrate's Court where the Magistrate made arrangements for Mr. Willow Abeysooriya to hold the inquiry at the scene the same day.

Mr. Abeysooriya who held the on-the-spot inquiry, ordered that the body be brought to the Akuressa Hospital for a postmortem examination by the Galle Judicial Medical Officer.

I was present at the Akuressa Hospital mortuary at the time of the postmortem examination on the 17th and the Galle JMO said the cause of death was gun-shot injuries from a gun fired at close range.

Handing over 16 pellets collected from the body of the victim to me, the JMO said he was of the opinion that nine were from a home-made cartridge as they were of different sizes and the rest from a factory-made cartridge as the spent pellets were similar to each other. I took charge of the pellets as productions.

The following day I went with a police party to Eramudugoda and arrested the suspect John in his house. He had a licensed 12-bore single barrel breech loading gun which he handed over to me. This gun appeared to have been well cleaned recently and there was "sweating" in the inner side of the barrel to suggest that it had been fired recently.

I also took charge of the gun. I then went to the house of Handy but he was not there. He surrendered to the police the following day but he too denied knowledge of the murder.

On that day, I produced both suspects in the Matara Magistrate's Court and got them remanded. After the inquiries, I sent the crime files to the Matara Assistant Superintendent of Police who in turn prepared the special Crime Reports and forwarded them to the Matara Superintendent of Police, Ernest Perera, who later became Inspector-General of Police. He was an intelligent officer who could grasp a fact in double-quick time.

His instructions to the ASP in the special Crime Reports read: "An uphill task. Both eye-witnesses have to be tackled carefully. One is old, the other is too young. OIC Akuressa to personally conduct this case in lower courts. Sgd: E.E.B. Perera."

I filed a 'B' report in the Matara Magistrate’s Court and moved court to send the gun recovered from the suspects, along with the pellets given to me at the postmortem, to the Government Analyst for a report. On submission of the Government Analyst's report, I filed plaint in the Magistrate’s Court under Section 296 read with Section 32 against both suspects for committing the murder of Lairis.

The late Mahesh Jayawickrama defended the suspects while I conducted the case for the prosecution. Galle JMO S. Saravanapavanandan gave evidence. The next prosecution witness was the Government Analyst, who said the gun had recently been used and subsequently cleaned with a corrosive liquid to destroy the tell-tale marks. He said he examined the 16 pellets which were said to be found in the body and produced at the postmortem examination. These pellets had come from two different cartridges — one a factory-made cartridge and the other a home-made cartridge. He elaborated that the spent pellets from a home-made cartridge were of different sizes and vice versa. He was of the opinion that two guns were used or one gun was used twice.

The evidence of Lansina and Rani were led. Both gave corroborating evidence. Sergeant Denipitiya also gave evidence, with the case for the prosecution being closed with my evidence. The defence did not call the suspects to give evidence.

The Matara Magistrate committed the case to the Galle Court of Assize (Supreme Court), after finger-printing the suspects.

About a year later, the case was taken up for trial on a Monday in the Galle Assize Court. On the first date, the JMO gave evidence and was cross-examined; on the second Lansina and Rani were cross-examined in detail by the Defence Counsel; and on the third my evidence was led by a Crown Counsel, with the defence cross-examining me. After that the prosecution closed the case.

The Jury retired and after about an hour court resumed sittings. The Jury brought in a unanimous verdict of guilt and the Judge sentenced both suspects to be executed by hanging. The convicts then appealed against the sentence but the verdict was upheld.

After about three months from this date, John was hanged on a Tuesday and Handy the following Thursday at Welikada.
Both brothers John and Handy paid the price with their lives for half-an-acre of paddy land.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.