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Sri Lanka: Revisiting the Hokandara horror

The accused were identified by DNA testing of blood samples found at the scene. This was the first time DNA was used in Sri Lanka for a criminal investigation and a trial.

by Prof. Ravindra Fernando

Neighbourhood Feud turns deadly for family of six

On February 12, 1999, I received a call from the then Solicitor General C. R. de Silva. He said that our department had conducted the post-mortem examinations of the family members killed in the Hokandara massacre and asked whether we visited the crime scene.



Villagers carry the coffins of the victims of the February 1999 Hokandara gruesome massacre that shocked the nation

I informed him that the Magistrate and Police who visited the scene have removed the bodies to the mortuary without informing us and we could not visit the scene. A rather worried Solicitor General then requested us to visit the scene even now, and we did. Of course there was no valuable forensic evidence for us to gather, as the villagers had gone through the scene!

What happened at Hokandara?

Receiving information over the phone, Thalangama police Inspector Suraweera visited a house in Amaragoda Road, Hokandara. The house was that of Lalanadasa. What Inspector Suraweera saw was shocking, as he narrated to me later!

When he entered the house from the back door, a light was on and he discovered the body of Lalanadasa, the chief occupant of the house. He was a landed proprietor and a rich farmer. The body was in a sitting position inside a large wooden box, which was used to store paddy. His hands and legs were tied with a coir rope. He was strangled by a ligature.

In a corridor adjoining the room, where Lalanadasa’s body was found, Inspector Suraweera saw the bodies of his wife Siriyawathie and daughter Chandra Priyangani lying on the floor. They had bled from the wounds on their necks. Between the two bodies, leaning against the ‘corridor- wall’ was a six-foot long crowbar.

In another room, hanging from the hinge of the door frame, was the dead body of Chithra Dayangani, another daughter of Lalanadasa. Her hands were tied from behind, her face was down and the body was touching the floor.

Inspector Suraweera found the body of another daughter, Nayana Damayanthi, behind the toilet at the back of the house. She had cut injuries on her neck.

When the police were in the house, a neighbour told the police that there was another member in the Lalanadasa family.

The police then searched the garden, which was about two acres in extent. About 30 meters away from the house, they found the body of Nissanka, Lalandasa’s son, lying between the coconut trees. That was around 3 a.m. There was blood and smears of mud on Nissanka’s clothes. There was evidence suggestive of Nissanka having fought with his assailants.

In the vicinity, the police also found a wounded neighbour, Amaradasa, He later succumbed to his injuries.

The Amaradasa family and the Lalanadasa family had not been in good terms. They often quarrelled. The Lalanadasas had made a police complaint alleging that the Amaradasas and their employees had been harassing them. Accordingly, a case had been filed by the Thalangama police against Amaradasa, his employee Sanjeewa alias Ukkuwa, Amaradasa’s son Gayan Suranga and two other persons.

On the day of the incident, Lalanadasa’s wife Siriyawathie and their daughter Chandra Priyangani were present at the Homagama Magistrate’s Court as witnesses in the case.

Dr. Nilukshi Abeyasinghe and Dr. S. Niranjan of my department performed the post-mortem examinations of the bodies. They made the following conclusions:

Lalanadasa died due to strangulation by a ligature. Sriyawathie died due to a deep cut injury of the neck. Nayana Damayanthi died due to cut injuries on her face and neck. Chandra Priyangani died due to a cut injury of the neck. Chithra Dayangani had two external injuries and one internal injury. Her death was due to hanging. Nissanka had multiple injuries. Death was due to a cut injury of the neck.

My colleague who had carried out the post-mortem had described the injuries on the vagina of Chithra Dayangani and had categorically stated that the injuries were indicative of either one person or many persons having sexual intercourse with her.

Investigation by Inspector Suraweera led to the arrest of three suspects the day after the incident, in a location about a kilometre from the scene of crime. They were charged in the High Court. The fourth suspect, Amaradasa’s son, was absconding. He surrendered to the High Court when the trial was half way through.

Consequent to a statement made by the second suspect, two gold chains and a pendant were recovered. Inspector Suraweera found two gold rings in the trouser pocket of the third suspect. In the inner surface of one of those rings the letter ‘C’ had been engraved.

The bangles, the chain, the pendant and the rings were identified as belonging to the two sisters by a witness, who had been having a relationship with Chithra Dayangani. According to the witness, some of the items were gifted by him to Chithra.

Four persons were charged in High Court. The first accused was Amaradasa’s employee, Menaka Sanjeewa alias Ukkuwa (aged 19), who was looking after his cattle among other things. Second accused Sampathsri Nandana (aged 25), and third accused Mahinda Siriwardene (aged 21) were friends of Ukkuwa and Amaradasa’s son Gayan Suranga (aged 17), who was the fourth accused.

I had the opportunity of questioning the first three accused and it appeared that Ukkuwa was of very low intelligence.

What happened on this day?

At the trial, the prosecution’ case rested mainly on the evidence of witness W.W. Jayanatha, alias Jonty, who was a close friend of the Amaradasa family, especially the fourth accused, Gayan. That day, Jonty and Gayan had visited the residence of Lalanadasa on three occasions. All three visits had been on the request of Gayan. Jonty told investigators when he visited the house he had not known what was happening there. He said he could not refuse Gayan’s request to accompany him, as they were close friends.

According to Jonty, he visited the Lalanadasa residence with Gayan for the first time on the day of the incident around 2 pm. At that time he had seen only the bodies of Lalanadasa and Nayana Damayanthi. Jonty had also seen the first three accused inside the house. He said he visited the Lalanadasa residence with Gayan for the second time around 3.30 p.m. On that occasion, he had observed there were two more bodies, which he identified as the bodies of Chandra Priyangani and Siriyawathie.

The sequence of events therefore indicated that Lalanadasa and Nayana Damayanthi had been killed before Siriyawathie and Chandra Priyangani returned from the Homagama Magistrate’s Court.

The third and the last visit made by Jonty to the scene of crime with Gayan was around 6 p.m. According to Jonty, he was standing near the entrance to the room where Chithra Dayangani, who was an undergraduate, had been tied to a bed with her face upwards. Jonty had categorically stated that Chithra Dayangani was alive at the time she was raped by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd accused and he had said that from the place he was standing he could clearly see what was happening inside the room. No sooner the 3rd accused finished raping her, Gayan had gone towards the helpless girl saying that he too wanted to have sexual intercourse with her and raped her. According to Jonty, she was alive while she was being raped.

Although Jonty made three visits to Lalanadasa’s residence, he did not see Nissanka either alive or dead in the vicinity. Nissanka’s colleagues from his place of work had testified that he was at work until about 8 p.m. on that day.

The accused were identified by DNA testing of blood samples found at the scene. This was the first time DNA was used in Sri Lanka for a criminal investigation and a trial.

On November 17, 2000, the High Court bench comprising Judges Raja Fernando, Gamini Amaratunga and Gamini Abeyratne, convicted all four accused. The first three accused were sentenced to death. They were found guilty of the cold blooded murders of the family of six. They were also convicted of gang rape and robbery and given a rigorous imprisonment for a term of 40 years. The fourth accused was convicted of gang rape only and given a 20 year rigorous imprisonment.

All four accused appealed against this decision to the Supreme Court (SC). On November 21, 2004, a five-judge SC bench dismissing the appeal affirmed the conviction and the sentence imposed on the four accused-appellants by the Trial-at- Bar.

The Special Bench of the SC comprised of Justices Shirani A. Bandaranayake, H. S. Yapa, T. B. Weerasuriya, Nihal Jayasinghe and N. K. Udalagama. A legal team led by Solicitor General C. R. de Silva appeared for the Attorney General.

The Hokandara murder story did not end there. On November 16, 2018, the first accused, Sanjeewa (Ukkuwa), was killed by stoning by two other death row inmates! One was the convict of the Rita John rape and murder case.

(The writer is Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, and Senior Professor of Forensic Medicine, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, Ratmalana)

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