6th August, 2006  Volume 13, Issue 4

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


Royal Park murder: Shramantha's mother to appeal against sentence

Shramantha with his mother Sandy Opatha 
(inset Yvonne Jhonssen)

My son is innocent says Shramantha's mom

By Frederica Jansz

Sandy Opatha, mother of Shramantha Jayamaha broke her silence last week to say she is determined to appeal against the sentence passed on her 20 year old son for the brutal murder of 19 year old Yvonne Jhonssen one year ago on July 1, 2005. The Colombo High Court sentenced Shramantha to 12 years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.300,000, recently. Details in the Judicial Medical Officers (JMO) report state that Yvonne Jhonssen died of fatal strangulation.  According to the JMO, Dr.M.P.A.A. Abeysinghe, Yvonne had 48 injuries on her horrendously mutilated body. 

Six of which were fatal.  She had been hit twice in the face with a blunt instrument - this broke her entire lower jaw into two.  Her head had been battered on a rough surface repeatedly - as a result her skull was smashed into four.  And finally a stocking like tape holding her trousers had been removed and she had been strangled not once but twice.  She also had multiple injuries on her upper body.

Yvonne was only 19 years old at the time of her death.  Her self-confessed killer, Shramantha Jayamaha was also 19 at the time of the brutal attack.

The JMO report on Shramantha states there was not a scratch or bruise on his body soon after the murder, which led police to charge that Shramantha contrary to his allegation that Yvonne hit him first - was in fact, never touched by the girl.

Despite Shramantha's confession to police to having hit Yvonne, smashed her head at least twice on a concrete stairway and then strangled her with a stocking like material before she choked to a ghastly death, his mother insists Shramantha is "one hundred percent innocent."

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Leader, Sandy Opatha, who describes herself as "a strong woman - a fighter" nevertheless was hard-pressed to contain bitter tears as she recounted happier times with a son she clearly loves.

"My son was tortured"

According to Sandy, officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) "tortured" her son and "forced" him into making a signed confession that was false. 

She says that soon after her son was arrested in July last year at the funeral house of the murdered Yvonne, he had been initially remanded for "48 hours without food and repeatedly tortured."  She alleges that the police officers  "pinched and repeatedly jammed Shramantha's testicles into a drawer" causing him unbearable, unendurable pain.

She charges that he was also beaten by police and at the end of the 48 hour period "was in such a state" that he had allegedly said he would sign anything they wanted.  Which is how, Sandy maintains the signed confession by Shramantha which literally sealed his fate was produced.

However according to the police, Shramantha Jayamaha's father was present at every interrogation. 

She asserts however that when Shramantha was finally produced before a magistrate to be further remanded he had informed the magistrate that his signed confession had been made "under duress" and that he was innocent of the murder of Yvonne Jhonssen.

But court records show that Shramantha at the time he was produced before Magistrate Amali Karunanayake in the presence of State Counsel Sumedha Mahavaniarachchi and CID officer Shani Abeysekera, did not once say that he had been subjected to police torture.

Shramantha did not make this charge even when he was taken for examination to the JMO, and later to an orthopaedic surgeon and two other doctors. 

Sandy meanwhile charges that her son was also tried and convicted by the media who unfairly "cloaked" him as the killer.  She adds that further pressure "from members of the diplomatic corps" (due to Yvonne's father being a foreign national) also led to Shramantha being finally convicted of a crime, she insists, he never committed.

Shramantha in court when making his dock statement admitted to having seen the mutilated body of a groaning Yvonne lying two floors below her 23rd floor penthouse apartment at Royal Park, Rajagiriya.

Sandy, said that in the early hours of July 1, last year, Shramantha having partied with both Yvonne and her sister Caroline the previous night (June 30), had upon coming out of the penthouse apartment after having spent some time with Caroline inside, before getting into the lift to leave, claims he heard someone moaning.  The sound, according to Sandy and later Shramantha's version of events was coming up the stairway built in case of a fire.

Sandy says Shramantha with his curiosity getting the better of him had then descended the stairway, two floors.  While doing so, she says he had said how he spotted an earring on one step and then blood splattered walls before he finally came upon the mutilated body of Yvonne breathing her last.  The dreadful sight, Sandy says, sent the 19 year old boy "into a state of shock."

Acted with composure

Which is why, Sandy maintains that after the incident, Shramantha had met a friend and acted with great composure and did not refer to the fact that he had seen Yvonne breathing her last after an obviously dreadful attack on her person. 

On leaving the premises he had in fact discussed mundane matters with a friend who picked him up in the wee hours of the morning of July 1, 2005.  He appeared quite rational and showed no signs that he had undergone a fearful experience and told no one what he saw. 

Except, according to the taxi driver's statement, Shramantha had shaken the hand of his friend, Shafraz Rilvan Mohamed and said "Thank you for coming - I will never forget this favour."

Not even, to Caroline whom he was dating at the time, did he confess having actually seen Yvonne in the very last stages of her life, obviously after having been attacked in the most brutal manner. 

Caroline on the morning of July 1, before Yvonne's body had been found, had sent him a mobile phone text message informing him that her sister had not returned home the previous night - to which Shramantha had sent a pithy reply. Even at this stage he did not confess to having actually seen her mutilated body and Yvonne breathing her last a mere two floors away from her apartment.

The question Sandy maintains that must be asked is this;  could this be a manifestation of severe mental trauma?

Dr. K. Sounthy Perinpanayagam, a consultant psychiatrist who currently runs a Children's Home for Disturbed Adolescents in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, UK, in relation to this case submitted to court his comments after being contacted by the defence counsel.

According to Dr. Perinpanayagam he says that it is common for those who have experienced severe mental trauma that they are not able to tolerate, to suffer from loss of memory of the feelings associated with the trauma, or of the entire incident, and behave as if they are unaware of the experience they have had.  It is called in medical jargon "Acute Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder" (PTSD).

PTSD, Dr. Perinpanayagam asserts, occurs only in selected cases in whom the personality is not strong enough to take in the traumatic event, absorb it into the mind and deal with it effectively  (see box for excerpts of Dr. Perinpanayagam's assessment of Shramantha's development from child-hood).

Reasonable doubt

Defence Counsel Daya Perera, P.C. in his argument stated that when you analyse the circumstantial evidence, it is a must that you prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused and no one other than the accused is guilty.  However, with the circumstantial evidence in this case "it has not been proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Shramantha is guilty," Perera says.

The prosecution, Sandy Opatha, charged, failed to prove the motive for Shramantha to have committed the crime.  She added that in lieu of circumstantial evidence, the prosecution could not prove that Shramantha was the only person who could have had the opportunity to commit the crime.

According to the prosecution, Yvonne was angry with Shramantha and that was the motive for the killing.  But Caroline in her statement said that Yvonne on June 30, 2005, (the day prior to the incident) had invited Shramantha and picked him up and gone out for a swim and subsequently spent the evening together.

The day of the incident, Yvonne had requested Shramantha to join her sister and her for a party.  Sandy says, Yvonne drove her blue colour Vitara, picked Shramantha up gave him pride of place in the front seat having asked her sister to sit behind.

Later that night, Yvonne with Shramantha had, according to Sandy mutually agreed that Caroline should not be speaking to a young boy called 'Pavithra' which is how an argument had developed and to prevent any further disharmony, Sandy says, Shramantha took Caroline home.

Sandy adds that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that Shramantha committed the crime or intended to commit the crime as he telephoned his friend to pick him up at 2.24 a.m. when Yvonne, she insists was still in a night club according to the statement of another friend who was with Yvonne that night- Christina Simms.

Yvonne according to police records came back home that night at 2.50 a.m.  Whether Shramantha was inside or outside the apartment at the time is in dispute.  The fact remains however that he was obviously still in the building as according to his own statement in court he saw her mutilated body lying in a heap two floors below the 23rd floor. 

Initial confession

In his initial confession, Shramantha says they met just outside the door of the apartment where Yvonne had attacked him while he had been trying to get his wallet and house keys off her - which he had earlier in the evening given to her for safe-keeping  (see box for confession).

Sandy maintains that the prosecution tried to establish that Shramantha left the scene of the crime with a blood stained trouser which two independent witnesses say was placed in the back seat of the taxi next to where he sat.

The CID took the taxi in question into custody and the government analyst examined for blood stains but according to Sandy did not find such evidence.

In his police confession Shramantha says that he took a swim in the pool at Royal Park before Mohammed arrived in a cab, in order to wash off all the blood and matter that was on his body, hands and hair.

Both, the taxi driver and Shafraz Mohamed later testified that there was no blood visible on Shramantha's person at the time they picked him up from Royal Park - dressed only in boxer shorts and shirt.

According to Sandy "it was not unusual for Shramantha to be seen in public in boxer shorts and shirt only. this was a common enough occurrence with him and that night he had not bothered to put his trousers back on after having taken them off in Caroline's bed-room.."

Confessed to police

Shramantha also confessed to police that his mother Sandy burnt his bloodied clothes and blood soaked shoes - after having sought advice from a lawyer.  Sandy vehemently denies having done so.

Recounting her version of events Sandy said Shramantha subsequently spent time with Yvonne's grieving family when he went to condole with them knowing that the CID was also going to be there.  She said, "This is not the act of a guilty person."

She told The Sunday Leader "we were in fact laughing and joking with him saying you are now a wanted man" upon hearing the police were looking to question him.

To our question what her first reaction was upon learning of the brutal killing of young Yvonne, Sandy replied "I was sorry - after all I knew the girl - she had spent time in my home." 

Defence Counsel Daya Perera maintains fingerprint evidence led by the prosecution cannot be accepted as the examiner's conclusion must be verified independently by two other officers who must be finger print experts.  Any mark or impression identification notified to the investigating officer and presented in court will have and must have been subject to this procedure.  This, Sandy asserts was not done.              

Furthermore, reasonable doubt was created by the disappearance of the security guard Indika Kumar, employed by Royal Park and who could not be found until the conclusion of the prosecution's case.

According to the prosecution's recorded statement, Yvonne returned to Royal Park at 2.50 a.m. through the main gate.  There is no evidence to prove that she parked her vehicle in the basement park allocated to the flat at this time as this entry has not been recorded.

According to the evidence in the Log Book, the vehicle was not in the basement at this time.  However, the vehicle appears to have left the apartment block at 8.10 a.m. (before the victim was found dead on July 1) and returned at 6.23 p.m. that day.  This, according to Daya Perera was not disclosed to the government analyst and neither was it investigated. 

"This inconceivable circumstance creates the doubt and leaves the circumstantial evidence inconclusive, Perera asserts, maintaining also that the fingerprints found on the car which did not belong to either Shramantha or Yvonne were never investigated, "preventing a conclusion of this valuable evidence."

Police maintain that the security guard Indika Kumar who was on duty that night had been asleep at the time Yvonne returned home.  The next day too, Kumar had been on duty - during the course of which he had been informed by his supervisor of Yvonne's murder.

Afraid that he would lose his job for failing to have entered the time Yvonne got back home the previous night, Kumar who incidentally is also an army deserter took fright and stayed away from work.

He also did not return to his home in Kurunegala where summons were served three times for him to appear in court.

Tracked down    

Police finally tracked him down to a Salaka outlet where he was serving as a security guard.  Kumar did finally make an appearance in court but his testimony proved useless.

Sandy meanwhile insists that DNA tests on a fresh sputum found near the body of the victim did not tally with the DNA test of Shramantha or Yvonne. 

She says of some 25 articles given for DNA testing, authorised by the magistrate, Dr. Maiya Gunasekera was requested to test only certain articles.  "If an analysis was conducted on all the articles, this would have established the innocence of my son," Sandy said.

Police have stated that this was because the articles of clothing and shoes which were indeed blood-stained had been destroyed forever.  And that those given for DNA testing were not the genuine items or clothing Shramantha had been wearing on the night of the murder.  

"Now with this conviction the state has set the wheels in motion to indeed breed a killer." Sandy opined commenting on the future of her son - Shramantha.

Sandy bitterly regrets the relationship Shramantha had with both sisters, Yvonne and Caroline.  She said, "I telephoned their mother Chamalika and told her I was not happy with this affair but nothing was done to stop them."

She bemoans a now ruined career in law Shramantha was studying for and a secure future any mother, she says would want for her son.  

Sandy describes Shramantha as an innately loving and kind boy - "a wonderful kid" who was loved and fussed around by his older siblings.

Flash back... Shramantha's confession...

In his confession Shamantha claims that Caroline had invited him into her bedroom where he spent 20 minutes with her.  Shamantha asserts he then came out of the apartment where he waited for Yvonne. He has told police he waited for her in order to retrieve his house keys, credit card and lip gloss all of which were in her evening purse. 

Caroline meantime had slept in her sister's bed-room that night waiting for her to arrive apparently to warn her that she had lied to her mother about having returned home with her.  She wrote her a note saying "please wake me when you come in" before she fell asleep in Yvonne's bed-room.

Yvonne arrived at approximately 2.50 a.m.  Parking her blue Vitara in the basement car park she took the elevator to the 23rd floor.

Walking towards her apartment, Shamantha says, Yvonne suddenly spotted him and according to him had begun to abuse him in filth saying, "you f.. s. what the hell are you doing here?"

Shamantha maintains he had replied he waited to get his keys and credit card from her bag and that he asked her for them.  He claims she refused to give them . an argument ensued where he says she slapped him.

He then claims he pushed her and the scuffle became serious as she continued to hit him and he hit her back.  The CID however maintain that there was no indication to suggest that Shamantha had been subjected to any type of serious provocation as his body bore no bruises or scratch marks.

Yvonne at some point must have realised Shamantha meant deadly business for instead of trying to get into her apartment which door for some reason she could not reach, she fled for the emergency stairway.

Shramantha in his confession says he followed her and as she ran down the stairs on each floor he continued to assault her.  Police later found her earrings on the 22nd floor and her bangles on the 21st.

On the 20th floor Shramantha has confessed that he managed to secure her evening bag from her but Yvonne he claims continued to fight him.  He had then in a rage taken her by her hair and smashed her face repeatedly against the hard concrete step.

He then says he pushed her down where she fell face down onto the 19th floor.  He says he then went up to her collapsed body, forced her trousers off from behind and bending her leg backwards pulled the trousers half off her inert body.  He says he then attempted to throttle her by tightening the legs of her trousers and tape he pulled from them, around her throat.  The JMO's report confirms that Yvonne finally died of strangulation and that her neck in fact had been squeezed in a death grip at least twice.

He left her then.  The time was approximately 3.10 a.m.  His own trousers were covered in her blood so he took them off.  He then called a close friend Shafraz Rilvan Mohamed and asked him to come immediately and get him. 

But before Mohamed arrived, Shramantha says he took a swim in the Royal Park pool to wash all the blood and matter off his body and hair.

Mohamed arrived in a 2688688 cab bearing No. KA-0750.  The cab arrived at Royal Park at around 3.40 a.m. during which time Shramantha hung around in the basement car park where he had told Mohamed to pick him up clad only in his shirt and boxer shorts.

The taxi driver in his statement to police has confirmed he picked up a young man only in boxer shorts and shirt from the Royal Park basement car park but did not question this.

Shramantha's developmental experiences...

Dr. K. Sounthy Perinpanayagam in his comments to court has attempted to discover what kind of personality and containing capacity Shramantha possessed.

He says according to very honest reports from both his parents Shramantha experienced quarrelling parents and parental neglect from the first year of his life.

According to his father, Shramantha was mainly looked after by maids and servants -

"He was left alone in others' care on many an occasion and also once when the entire family went abroad to Australia during Christmas . when the child was about five years old.felt insecure when left with maids,  phoned for attention when parents went out for dinner etc..parents parted with lots of quarrels, extremely harsh exchanges.they hardly talk to each other." His mother has told Dr. Perinpanayagam.

"It was loads of quarrels, sometimes violent ones..went on for at least six years (when the parents parted).  Many minor separations. left with father who was very broken down and could offer no stability." 

"Yes... my son was on drugs.."

Sandy Opatha confessed that her son indeed took drugs but insists "it was nothing dangerous - just Ecstasy which all of them (Yvonne and Caroline too) took each time they went clubbing together."

She said that on the night in question, June 30, 2005, "it was probable Shramantha had indeed taken some Ecstasy tablets."

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