A Sri Lankan court has sentenced two men to die for causing the death of a woman, who survived the first waves of the 2004 tsunami but was pushed back into the sea by the duo after snatching her gold chain, a police officer said Thursday. After yanking her necklace, the two let Dineti Deshika fall back into the torrent on December 26, 2004. Her body was found after the waters receded.
The incident in the southern port city of Galle got wide publicity and condemnation in Sri Lanka, where the tsunami killed at least 35,000 people and affected 1 million.
"The honorable judge found both of them guilty of murder and sentenced them to death," said police office Jayalath Ballagale from Galle.
The incident came to be known when Colombo's Daily Mirror newspaper splashed photographs of two men pulling the woman after the first wave struck.
The photo series showed the men yanking the gold chain from her neck and then fighting each other for the jewelry. Deshika was carried away into the sea.
After the publication of the photos, police tracked down Ruwan Mapalagamage and Ajith Kumara on Jan. 13, 2005. Both are residents of Galle. They were initially charged with theft, which was later upgraded to murder.
Though the pair has been sentenced to death, Sri Lanka has not executed anyone in three decades, despite lifting a 1976 moratorium on the death penalty in December 2004.
Galle High Court judge Chandrasena Rajapakse sentenced Mapalagamage to two years imprisonment and fined him 2,500 rupees (US$250, euro188.47) for gold theft and sentenced him to death for murder. Kumara was acquitted of theft but sentenced for murder. The judgment was based on a video film and testimony of witnesses.
Days after the tsunami, police arrested dozens of people for looting, some making off in trucks carrying refrigerators, washing machines and furniture from coastal homes and hotels.