By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN
TWO men who went on a blood path, killing a Chinese couple within a span of 10 minutes before robbing their shop, will now spend the rest of their lives in jail.
This was after Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer on Thursday found Jimson Goufi and Raymond Keota guilty of the murder of Lao Gongzhen and his wife Wu Yuegui inside their Town Ground shop, west Honiara, on 15 April last year.
Sir Albert found little difficulty reaching the verdict.
He said evidence adduced by the prosecution clearly shows the couple’s security guard Goufi and his accomplice Keota, were responsible for the Easter weekend murder that had shocked the nation.
“I am satisfied the prosecution had proven beyond reasonable doubt Goufi and Keota were the persons who were involved in the most cruel and inhumane killing of this innocent Chinese couple who were going about their daily business at LGZ shop,” Sir Albert said in his 21- page judgment.
“....and I find them both guilty of their murder and convict them accordingly.
This matter will return to the High Court again on October 26 for counsels to make submissions on the minimum period these two accused can spend in jail before they can be eligible to apply for parole.
Video footages investigators extracted from the CCTV cameras inside the LGZ building vividly captured the gruesome and cruel killing that took place within a “short window of time of about 10 minutes”.
Goufi and Keota denied their involvement, claiming they were at their home at Riffle Range, west Honiara, at the time of killing.
Goufi claimed after signing off from work on 15 April 2017, he returned home.
But Sir Albert found Goufi’s unsworn statement in court to be too vague and unambiguous.
“I do not believe his account.
“His evidence had been contradicted by clear video footages and admissions in his record of interview of involvement in the killing at the LGZ shop,” Sir Albert said.
He also said he did not believe Keota’s account and denials.
“I find him to be very evasive, vague and uncooperative in his responses to questions put to him by the leaned Director (DPP), in cross examination, especially when it related to evidence and video footages, which showed his direct involvement in the crime at the scene.
“Apart from straight denials, he offered no reasonable, logical or intelligent explanation, reasons or answers as to the images that showed his direct involvement in the murders,” Sir Albert added.
The chief justice said he is satisfied that those video footages showed a close association between the two of them and that there can be little doubt they could not be acting otherwise than in concert together to execute their carefully orchestrated plan.
“This would seem to be a case of a plan to rob or steal, gone wrong for the confessional statement of Goufi provides somewhat an explanation of the motive for the attack,” he said.
In his record of interview, Goufi said it was Keota’s idea which he told him about and he agreed to it and they then do it.
Goufi confessed to police that Keota said it was because he (Goufi) has access he can make way for him (Keota) to come and steal from the shop.
He also said Keota planned this a week before the incident and they carried out their operation on the day of the incident.
Sir Albert said Goufi in his admission stated Keota rang to inform him that he was on his way to carry out the mission, which was consistent with the video footages in which Goufi was seen talking on the phone immediately prior to the arrival of Keota at the shop.
He said Goufi in his record of interview explained that their initial plan to steal changed when there was resistance from the couple, resulting in their deaths.
Goufi also admitted to police he took $60,000 and shared this between them.
“The admission of theft is consistent with the sudden increase in wealth being displayed and splashed around witnessed by other independent Crown witnesses,” Sir Albert said in his ruling.
He said a witness said he was given “bus fare” in the sum of $4,000 by Goufi and another witnesses said he was given $2,000 by Goufi which he used to purchase a bike.
“This sudden increase in wealth displayed by the defendants immediately after the killing at LGZ shop is consistent with the explanation that these came from the theft of takings at LGZ,” Sir Albert said.
He added the video footage evidence being more than sufficient as a stand-alone evidence, once identification had been determined, to prove the crimes of murder beyond reasonable doubt against the two defendants, even if the confessional statement was to be excluded.
The court heard Goufi and Keota both resided together at the same residence at Rifle Range before, during and immediately after the incident, before each going off separately to Malaita obviously in an attempt to evade capture.
The court also heard a lap top belonging to the deceased couple was found in the possession of Keota in his house at his village in Malaita which is consistent with the Crown’s case that they acted together to commit the crime at LGZ shop.
The bodies of the two deceased were discovered on the morning of 17 April 2017 by Goufi who is the couple’s security guard, but pretending to know nothing about the killing.
On the evening of 15 April 2017, Goufi let Keota inside the shop, when all the shop keepers have already left.
Whilst inside, Keota was seen standing at the counter for some time before pulling out a long bush knife, jumped over the counter and struck Mr Lao, who was behind the shop counter.
Goufi then went and got hold of the same bush knife and repeatedly struck the victim which landed him on the floor.
Keota attacked Mr Lao’s wife with a kitchen knife when she came out from the kitchen to check on her husband after hearing noises.
He injured her throat with the kitchen knife.
When she was no longer breathing, both accused then helped themselves looting money from the shop’s tiller, packed it in a school bag before exiting the building.
The following Monday morning Goufi and other female workers of the shop went to work and discovered the couple were dead.
Goufi and Keota escaped to Malaita after the killing.
However, Guofi later surrendered to police with the help of his relatives, while Keota was arrested on May 21 last year after a few weeks on the run.
George Gray and Michael Holara from the Public Solicitor’s Office represented the two accused.