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High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya murder :

All five accused sentenced to death

All five accused in the Colombo High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya and his bodyguard Chief Inspector Upali murder case were sentenced to death yesterday.

High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya who was slain by gunmen as he arrived at his home on the afternoon of November 19, 2004.

The Trial-at-Bar comprising three High Court Judges, High Court Judge Upali Abeyratne (President), High Court Judge W.A.T. Ratnayake and High Court Judge I. M. Abeyratne, in a 248-page unanimous verdict delivered after deliberating for five and a half hours, sentenced the accused to death. The verdict was read without a break.

The President of the Trial-at-Bar said the prosecution had proved the accused guilty of the murder of High Court Judge Ambepitiya and his bodyguard Upali beyond all reasonable doubt.

The Attorney General had indicted Sujith Rohana Rupasinghe, Suminda Nishantha, Udara Perera and Lasantha Kumara for the murder of High Court Judge Ambepitiya and his Police Bodyguard Chief Inspector R. A. Upali in front of the Judge's residence at Bullers Road on November 19, 2004.

They had been further indicted along with Mohammed Niyas Naufer alias Potta Naufer for conspiring to commit the murder of the High Court Judge and his bodyguard. This was the first time ever that a Judge has been assassinated in Sri Lanka.

The other accused in the High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya and his body guard murder being escorted to the Black Maria to be taken to the welikada jail.

The trial was concluded about after seven months of the murder in November 2004 and nearly three months after the commencement of the trial on March 16, with around 41 witnesses testifying.

When the President of the Trial-at-Bar, High Court Judge Upali Abeyratne inquired of the accused as to whether they have to say anything before the sentence was passed on them, all five accused told court that they were quite innocent of the crime and had no involvement in the assassination of the High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya and his bodyguard Upali.

The first accused Mohamed Niyas Naufer also said that the prosecution witness Thilak gave false evidence against him.

The President of the Trial-at-Bar sentenced all the accused to death by hanging and ordered that they be taken to the Welikada Jail and kept their until the President gives a date to hang them.

Tight security was provided by the Special Task Force (STF) and Police who ringed the packed court house.

Interpreter Mudliyar D.M.J. Dissanayake officiated.

Solicitor General C. R. de Silva PC, Senior State Counsel Kapila Vidyaratne, Senior State Counsel Sarath Jayamanna, State Counsel Haripriya Jayasundara, State Counsel Upalangani Rajapaksa and State Counsel Dinethi Liyanage appeared for the Attorney General.

President's Counsel Thirantha Walaliyadda, Methsiri Paranavitharana, Ravindra de Silva, Akalanka Ukwatta, Nalin Welaratne, manjula Welagedera, Sarath Ekanayake instructed by Lakshman Perera appeared for the first accused.

Sudath Karavita appeared for second and fourth accused. Dilshan Fernando appeared for the third and fifth accused. Nalinda Indatissa appeared for the third and fifth accused. Saman Wickremabandu, J. Salvathura and K. S. Ratnavale appeared for the aggrieved party.

Nimal Muthukumarana watched the interest on behalf of the High Court Lawyers' Association.

The Police team led by Colombo Crime Division Director Senior SP Sarath Lugoda, ASPs J. R. Jayawardena, Palitha Fernando, Inspector Nuwan Wedisinghe, OIC, CCD and the other officers who conducted the investigations into the killing were also present in court yesterday.

Senior SP Ceaser Ranaweera, ASPs Premalal Ranagala, Indu Karunaratne, Champika Siriwardena, Chief Inspector Cyril Wijesinghe, OIC Pettah, Inspector W.M. Chandratilleke, OIC Keselwatta and team of Police officers of the Keselwatta police provided security in and around the court premises.

Pictures by Mahinda Vithanachchi, Saman Sri Wedage and Sudath Nishantha



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