The nephew of an elderly Qatari woman who was killed in 2012 has expressed frustration this week over a Court of Appeal decision to delay delivering its verdict until after the summer break.
The court said it would hear more arguments this fall because the three men convicted of killing the woman lacked legal counsel.
Supar Manyn Alagba, 44, Shela Duwai Peyromal, 41 and 22-year-old Sevakumar Arashan confessed to breaking into the woman’s home in the middle of the night and stabbing her to death as they robbed the villa.
A judge found all three guilty of first-degree intentional murder, armed robbery, breaking and entering and weapons offenses and on Dec. 31, 2014, sentenced them to death by firing squad.
The men appealed the lower court’s verdict. After several sessions, a judge scheduled a hearing for this past Monday to deliver his verdict.
But to the dismay of the victim’s family, the court decided to reopen the trial and schedule a hearing for Nov. 18 to hear more arguments with lawyers present to represent the convicted men.
“Although we were content with the lower court’s verdict, the trial has taken too long,” Rashid Al-Kuwari, the nephew of the deceased woman, told Doha News. He added that he went to court on Monday expecting to hear that the lower court’s verdict had been upheld.
“My aunt was killed in 2012. It’s 2015 now and it’s still not over.”
The convicted men worked in construction, and were former neighbors of the 81-year-old woman, who lived in the Al Salata area of Doha. They would occasionally perform odd jobs and join her for meals during Ramadan despite not being Muslim.
A month after they moved away from the area, the men – wearing gloves and armed with two knives and a hammer – returned to Al Salata, climbed the wall of the woman’s villa and entered through a side door.
According to the official court verdict, once the men were inside the home, the two older defendants knocked on the woman’s ground-floor bedroom door.
The victim opened it and was pulled outside. While one man pinned her arms behind her back, the other covered her mouth and stabbed her in the right side of her chest with a knife. Forensic examiners would later determine that initial wound to be fatal.
As she fell, she was stabbed in the back by the other man, kicked in the face and dragged into the bathroom.
“They killed the victim for fear of her identifying them,” the court ruling concluded.
Hearing the commotion, a 26-year-old domestic worker who had been sleeping upstairs left her room and began walking down the stairs, where she was attacked by one of the men armed with a knife.
After a brief struggle that left her with deep cuts in her hands as well as bruises on her neck and leg, the woman retreated to her room, locked the door and called for help.
The men fled with the deceased woman’s mobile phone and several perfume bottles, but were subsequently arrested by police after being identified by the domestic worker.
She knew them from their work in the house and, according to the defendant’s testimony, because she had a relationship with one of the men. However, she was not suspected of being part of the robbery.
The men confessed to police and prosecutors and led investigators to where one of the knives had been dumped near Al Wakrah.
The defense lawyer for the third defendant argued during the criminal trial that his client only intended to rob the woman and not to kill her.
However, the court said a person is still responsible for “unintended consequences that could be expected” during the commission of a crime and convicted him of murder.
It also rejected arguments by defense lawyers that the prosecutor’s alleged sequence of events was “illogical,” that investigators lacked the authority to search the men’s home in Al Wakrah and obtained their confessions under duress.
On the contrary, the court concluded that the statements the men made separately to police and the prosecutor were “free-willed and valid.”
Lacking legal counsel
It’s not clear if the men were without lawyers for all or just some of the appeal hearings. It’s also not known why the sessions were allowed to proceed while the men lacked legal representation.
When a defendant does not have a lawyer and says he or she cannot afford one, an attorney assigned to be on call in the courthouse is typically summoned to take on the case.
It’s unclear why that did not happen in this case. However, in a separate trial last year, several lawyers refused to represent a Pakistani man accused of murdering a 68-year-old Qatari woman.
The attorney who eventually took the case speculated that the victim’s prominence in the local community or the evidence against the defendant may have played a role:
“I think that the previous lawyers dropped the case either because they know the victim’s family, sympathize with them and feel a degree of awkwardness representing the defendant, or because they can see how an open-and-shut case this is and they know in advance that they will lose it,” the attorney, Abdullah Isa al-Ansari, told Doha News in August.
The defendant, Muhammad Zaman Zirdad Khan, was eventually found guilty last November and sentenced to death.