By Jeevana Pahan Thilina
Ever since the battered and brutally sexually assaulted body of toddler Seya Sadewmi was discovered on 13 September last year, a day after she went missing from her home, the entire country awaited with bated breath to see her killer face justice in a court of law.
That day finally arrived on 15 March 2016 when Negombo Provincial High Court Judge Champa Janaki Rajarathna found the main accused in the case, Saman Jayalath, guilty of all four charges; abducting Seya Sadewmi, rape, inflicting serious sexual injuries, and murder.
He was sentenced to death.
For the first charge the judge ordered 20 years rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs 10,000, and another year in case the fine is not paid. For the second charge the accused was given 20 years rigorous imprisonment and a Rs 25,000 fine, and another one year imprisonment in case the fine is not paid.
For the third charge he was given 20 years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000, and another one year in case the fine is not paid.
All these sentences are to be served consecutively.
He was awarded the death penalty for the fourth charge.
The accused was allowed to make a statement in Court before sentencing. In such instances the accused, in general, beg pardon for their offences or speak about their families. Some others even utter nonsense. Yet, accused Saman Jayalath appeared remorseless.
He simply blamed alcohol and smoking as reasons for committing the grievous crime.
After Seya's body was discovered following extensive search by the police and villagers of Kotadeniyawa, a number of persons were arrested on suspicion of her murder. Although it took the police some time to apprehend the main suspect, once Jayalath was in custody the legal process went on swiftly.
The suspect was indicted within 71 days of arrest. The case was heard within 166 days and the judgment was delivered after 185 days on 15 March.
Seya's killer will have to spend 60 years in jail as Sri Lanka does not implement the death penalty.
There is one forgotten factor in this sordid incident: The family of Seya Sadewmi, who were accused by the people in their village – and in the entire country – for the gruesome fate that befell their child. When the news of the discovery of the child's body started spreading like wildfire, the villagers surrounded her house, demanding the arrest of her parents.
Some accused her mother of having an extra marital affair. The father was accused for the rape and murder of his daughter. He was also accused of attempting to assault a media person. He became a social outcast.
The family was under house arrest and the aggrieved parents did not have the opportunity to take part in the last rites of their beloved child.
Following the funeral, the villagers started demanding the arrest of the parents, although by that time it had been found that they had no part in the gruesome killing. They kept asking why the parents did not appear distraught at the loss of their child.
Even today, some continue to badger the parents, accusing them of negligence.
Who suffered the most in the aftermath of the murder was perhaps Seya's father. He was reluctant to speak after his child's killer was sentenced. However, he opened up about the entire incident later on.
"We were delivered justice by the Court. I am thankful for it. But, a man like this might not worry about being in jail. A man who has a conscience may regret, but one like this may not. Such a person will have better life in prison. We demand his execution.
"Everybody blamed my wife. They said it happened due to her carelessness. But, I must ask the society not to blame her. I brought her to this village. I convinced her not to be afraid of the neighbourhood. That is why she slept without fear. Fixing the grill of the window was my responsibility which I neglected. Accuse me for that. She is not a careless mother.
"She is a mother of three children. She cared for the children with great care when they were very young. On some mornings, she told me that she had to wake up six times in the night. I did not know. One child wanted to use the washroom. Then Seya wanted her attention. She had to breastfeed the other child. She was working so hard. This happened because of our bad luck. We had been sinners to bear so much pain. Everyone started accusing us when we were bereaved. It was unbearable.
"Some media behaved quite badly. I might have committed suicide if the media like you were not there. You appeared for me when no one was there for me. You wrote the true story. Some TV channels tried to make a mega teledrama using my innocent child's story. They made stories showing scribbling of the children. Some channels showed the images of the body. Newspapers used it to market themselves. But, you investigated the truth and reported it.
"I have nothing to say to the society. According to them I am the worst father who did not look after my children. What can I say to the other so-called 'caring' fathers?"
He made one final request to all the media.
"Please don't publish our images in future."
He wanted to extend his thanks to some other people.
"I must thank former OIC of Kotadeniyawa and the ASP for protecting us when people surrounded our house and attempted to harm us. I must also thank Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayaka, who was with us and helped us."
Seya's story is one that taught many lessons to the Sri Lankan society including the media.