Three sentenced to death in Sosilawati murder trial

PUTRAJAYA: A former lawyer and two farmhands lost their final appeal to escape death while another accused walked free in the murder case of cosmetic millionaire Datuk Sosilawati Lawiya and three others.

The accused, R. Matan, escaped the gallows after the Federal Court allowed his appeal to set aside his conviction and death sentence.

Chief Justice Tun Ariffin Zakaria, who led a panel of five judges, said there was insufficient evidence against Matan.

"It is our finding that there is overwhelming evidence before the court to show that Sosilawati and three others were murdered at the farm and that their murders were committed by the three accused, acting with common intention," he said.

N. Pathmanabhan, 47, and three others – Matan, 26, T. Thilaiyalagan, 25, and R. Kathavarayan, 37, – were sentenced to death by the Shah Alam High Court on May 23, 2013.

They were found guilty of murdering Sosilawati, 47, bank officer Noorhisham Mohamad, 38, lawyer Ahmad Kamil Abdul Karim, 32, and Sosilawati's driver Kamaruddin Shamsuddin, 44.

They committed the offences at Lot 2001, Jalan Tanjong Layang, Tanjung Sepat, Banting, between 8.30pm and 9.45pm on Aug 30, 2010.

The charge under Section 302 carries the death sentence.

Pathmanabhan, Matan, Thilaiyalagan and Kathavarayan failed in their appeal at the Court of Appeal on Dec 4, 2015.

"We find that there is insufficient evidence implicating Matan in the murder of Sosilawati. The accused was just a farm worker," Ariffin said.

Matan was only seen unloading logs at the farm, a day before the murder and at 10pm on the day of the murder.

"We hold that it is unsafe to rely on the evidence of another witness, who was rightly declared hostile by the trial judge.

"There was no evidence of conduct under Section 8 of the Evidence Act and no evidence showing that he was involved in the discovery of the items (exhibits)," he said.

"We hold that the trial judge had erred in calling the accused to enter his defence at the close of prosecution case," Ariffin said.

"The accused is acquitted and discharged of the offences as charged," he said.

He said there was an opportunity for the three accused to commit the murder as the farm belongs to Padmanabhan, Sosilawati had given notice to the accused of her intention to meet up.

"In short, when Sosilawati and three others entered the farm, an opportunity was afforded to the three to successfully carry out the murder. There was an easy passage for the three to commit the offence.

"Sosilawati and three others must have met their untimely ends at the farm, in the hands of the three accused," he said.

He said the prosecution had successfully established a "prima dacie" case against the accused.

The panel of judges also comprised Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, and Federal Court judges Tan Sri Suriyadi Halim Omar, Tan Sri Azahar Mohamed and Tan Sri Zaharah Ibrahim.

Matan's lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said his client was in remand and he would be released after he is taken back to Kajang Prison.

He said his client is relieved his seven-year ordeal is over.