Monday, June 19, 2017

Mel Gunasekera murder trial: A case of killing a journalist 

After three years of court hearings the concluding arguments for Mel Gunasekera’s murder case were heard by Colombo High Court Judge Piyasena Ranasinghe on May 31, 2017. Senior State Counsel Shanil Kularatne, who led the prosecution case gave the opening address by summarizing the evidence brought to light by
the prosecution.   

Who was Mel Gunasekera?
Melicia Gunasekera was 40 years at the time of her death. She was a graduate of the University of East London. A journalist for the Sunday Times, an editor for Lanka Business Online and Agence France Presse (AFP)as its first full-time female correspondent in Colombo. At the time of her death, she was the Assistant Vice-President of Fitch Ratings.
According to what transpired during the concluding statements, on February 2, 2014, while her parents and younger brother, Dayan Gunasekera, had left for church to attend the Sunday mass that morning as per their usual schedule, Melicia Gunasekera, more commonly known as Mel, stayed at home as she had attended a school event the previous night and had gone to bed late.
On returning home, her family noticed the dogs, that are normally kept caged, were let loose. Mel’s mother, Manel Gunasekera, hurried into the house, not expecting the horrifying sight that she was about to see before her. Mel was lying lifelessly on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Dayan Gunasekera who was parking the car, while his parents entered the house, heard them shouting and rushed inside to find his sister on the pantry floor, blood everywhere.The police emergency hotline was called and a team from the Thalangama Police emergency division led by Sub Inspector, Prasanna Atapattu, arrived at the crime scene to conduct preliminary investigations.   
  • The accused is alleged to have entered the house by removing the iron grills

  • The sniffer dogs were given the screwdriver and the betel pack to identify

  • In two of the CCTV footages the accused had been spotted

  • Anthony Ramson George walked towards the house with a plastic bag in hand when the police ambushed him

Since the crime was a brutal killing of a journalist, the Mirihana Special Investigation Unit was also asked to immediately start looking for the perpetrator. Consequently, a police kennel division arrived to the crime scene with sniffer dogs. The police saw that the cupboards were open and outside the house a screwdriver had fallen on the ground. The Gunasekera family confirmed that the screwdriver did not belong to them.
The accused is alleged to have entered the house by removing the iron grills of a window in the drawing room using a screw driver.There was also a knife found on the pantry sink which was identified to be one used by the family to cut vegetables and a knife which had been separated from its handle found in the drawing room. A folded betel pack stained with blood was found on the kitchen sink.
The sniffer dogs were given the screwdriver and the betel pack to identify the smell and they proceeded on the road for about 200m from the house followed by the police. On this trail the police spotted a house with a CCTV camera focused on the road. Incidentally the owner of the house was former Chairman of the Ports Authority, Priyath Bandu Wickrama, where CCTV cameras have been installed which captures road images. Having obtained the CCTV footage with permission, the footages were observed by the police and Dayan Gunasekare.
At 7:28 am a man dressed in a yellow shirt and a pair of blue denims was seen roaming in the area with a betel pack in his hand. At 7.36 am he was seen walking towards the main road away from the Gunasekera’s house. At 7:39 am the same person was still seen roaming in the area. At 8:04 am, the man was still caught on surveillance but this time, he was dressed in a short sleeved blue shirt and a pair of black trousers which were identified to be Dayan Gunasekera’s clothes. In two of the CCTV footages the accused had been spotted with a betel pack. Dayan immediately identified the man as Annie Rose’s brother, Anthony Ramson George, who had come to their house last December to colourwash it.   
The police then spoke to Mel’s father, Marcus Gunasekera as Annie Rose was employed by him, in order to get her contact information. The police got the father to contact her and asked about the whereabouts of her brother. Annie Rose then gave them his telephone number which was an Etisalat number. The police then contacted the company and got the NIC number of the accused as well as the address given to the mobile phone company. Immediately they went in search of the accused and when they arrived at the house, the neighbours told the police that they were not there. The police then contacted the Election Commissioner’s Office, which was operating as it was the election period and using the NIC number they were able to find out the present address of the accused and details with regard to the Grama Seva division. Then IP Nimal Karunaratne of the Mirihara Special Division Unit who was heading the investigation immediately mobilized a group of officers and went to Dompe. While the Mirihara Special Division was entrusted with finding out the perpetrator, the crime investigation was taken care of by the Thalangama Police.   
At the accused’s house Police Inspector, Nimal Perera, was asked to go up to the house and to ask whether the accused was at home under the pretence of seeking his services. The wife and mother had then said that he had gone in the morning and had not yet returned. Then the police organised an ambush.   
Around 8.30 pm Anthony Ramson George walked towards the house with a plastic bag in hand when the police ambushed him. He was wearing the same short sleeved blue shirt and the black colour trouser as shown in the CCTV footage earlier that day, which reassured the fact that the man had been identified properly.   
Inside the plastic bag he had the trouser and the yellow colour  tee shirt that he was wearing at 7.36 am and 7. 39 am footages. Police realized that the clothes were wet. And he would have washed it because the blood would have splattered onto the clothes, which was a reason for him to wear Mel’s brother’s clothes. Along with this he had a Black Berry cell phone which had belonged to Mel, who used it to send and receive emails. The police wanted to take the clothes as production. The accused was asked to hand over the clothes. When he was removing the clothes he was wearing a vest. IP Nimal Karunaratne, an officer with a wealth of experience in the criminal investigation noticed six small patches on the vest. After examining these patches he told the accused to hand over the vest as well. At that time the accused ran out of the house from the kitchen to the place where the kitchen water was being discharged and rolled on to the water.   

"Appearing on behalf of the accused, the counsel took up the position that the accused went up to the house, knocked on the main door, rang the bell twice and then phoned the house since there was no response"

His vest was then marked as a production and it was obvious that there was mud on it. Then IP Nimal Karunaratne along with the accused and the other prosecutors went to the Mirihara Special Investigation Unit. By the time they reached the station it was 1.30 am on the February 3, 2014. He marked the particular areas where he identified the patches which he thought was human blood. Later on the productions were referred to the Head of the Molecular Division of Kelaniya Medical Faculty, Dr. Menaka Hapugoda, who confirmed, though a DNA analysis that the patches were in fact blood patches that tallies with the blood of the deceased. Furthermore it was confirmed that Ramson George was wearing Dayan Gunasekera’s clothes through Sunshine Laundry, where the family are regular customers. In the morning itself the police reported the facts to the courts with regard to the arrest of the accused, which was done by the Mirihara Special Investigation Unit. And took the accused to the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) for a medical examination. Dr. K. G Dasanayake had examined the accused and he found out in the examination that there were certain nail marks on the outside of the palm of the hand. The doctor was of the view that when he tried to cover the mouth of the deceased, she would have probably tried to take his hand away and that would have been the reason for nail marks to be on the outer palm area of the accused. There were also two small cut injuries near the fingers, that is because the deceased would have probably resisted and in the process the accused would have sustained a small injury.   
In the postmortem conducted by Dr. Raveendra Fernando it was found that there were 54 injuries on the body of the deceased and he also said that there was a huge injury near the neck, where the blood vessel has got cut. When the blood vessel has got cut the blood that is pumped from the heart is pumped outside. Which allegedly was the reason as to how the accused got blood splattered on to his vest.   

What happened in court?   

In the concluding arguments the prosecution summarized all the evidence that was brought to light. Mr. Kularatne further went on to explain to court at what time the incident took place, then explained the place where the incident took place, then how information with regard to the accused was found out by the police, how police went in search of the accused and what made them to go in search of the accused. The prosecution explained the productions that were taken into custody during the course of the investigation. And it is the prosecution’s position that due to the 54 injuries that were found on the deceased, the accused had the murderous intention to assassinate the deceased. Since the Blackberry phone belonging to Mel was found on the accused, it was confirmed that there was a robbery. The prosecution case was based on circumstantial evidence.   
In the indictment filed by the Attorney General, the first count is under 436 of the Penal Code. The second count is under 383 of the Penal Code and the third count is under section 296 of the Penal Code.   
The key witnesses in the case were Dayan Gunasekera - the brother of the deceased, Nuwan Amarasinghe, Dr. Menaka Hapugoda who testified with regard to the analysis of evidence, Ravindra Fernando with regard to the post mortem, Inspector Nimal Karunaratna regarding investigation and conduction of the arrest of the accused. S.I. Atapattu from Thalangama Police with regard to visit the crime scene and handling of production from the crime scene. I.P. Nimal Perera with regard to assistance given to Nimal Karunaratna, Hemantha Perera with regard to handling of production for DNA analysis.   
Appearing on behalf of the accused, the assigned counsel Soumya Hettiarachchi, took up the position that the accused went up to the house, knocked on the main door, rang the bell twice and then phoned the house since there was no response.   
The judgement of the case is to be delivered on July 5, 2017.