A homophobic man has been found guilty of murdering a man in a cemetery after hitting him 12 times in the face and head with a claw hammer.
Erik Feld, who had an obsession with extreme violence, hid behind a monument in east London in the early hours of 16 August 2021 before causing “catastrophic” injuries to Ranjith Kankanamalage, who was unarmed.
The 50-year-old victim was found by a member of the public on a path in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park later that day.
Camera footage captured the defendant walking from the cemetery at around 4.13am as he headed home after the murder.
Feld, 37, told the Old Bailey he had taken the hammer to hit trees for stress relief and said he struck the victim because he feared he was going to be attacked.
During his trial, the defendant went on a homophobic rant about Mr Kankanamalage who has a family in Sri Lanka and was in a relationship in the UK.
Feld had “dark places in his soul” that were “not in the darkest recesses but very near the surface”, prosecutor Paul Cavin KC told jurors.
“The extraordinary homophobic outburst is obviously something you will not forget,” he said.
‘Deep interest in violence’
Prosecutors said the contents of the defendant’s mobile phone showed he had a “deep interest in violence with the particular theme of attacks with hammers”.
“In the weeks leading up to 16 August, he had repeatedly visited websites that contained videos of people being attacked with hammers, some of whom were beaten to death,” said Mr Cavin.
Two photos of Feld posing with a claw hammer were recovered, the trial heard.
Feld revealed in a 2017 mental assessment that he used to go out “with a hammer, screwdriver or razor blades, hoping to catch someone unawares… down alleys”, according to the prosecution.
He said he sometimes went out with a weapon “for example a hammer” in case an “opportunity presented itself”.
Feld was arrested on 20 August 2021 as he was awaiting sentence for waving a claw hammer outside a Poundland store two days after the killing.
Two mallets and a sledge hammer were found in a hallway cupboard during a search of his home in Tower Hamlets, east London, and a third mallet was discovered in a living room cupboard.
He was released on bail after declining to talk to police or allow access to his mobile phone, the Old Bailey heard.
Feld’s DNA found on victim’s nail clippings
Feld was re-arrested in January 2022 after his DNA was found on bloodstained nail clippings from the victim’s left hand.
Officers then found another hammer and a cut-throat razor by Feld’s pillow after a fresh search of his flat.
While on remand at Belmarsh prison, Feld had “confessed” to the offence of a “random killing committed against an unknown man” in a letter handed to a prison officer.
Jurors were told Mr Kankanamalage was a regular visitor to the “spooky” cemetery, which was known as a “cruising” hotspot.
‘Defendant claimed self-defence’
Feld’s legal team claimed he hit out in self-defence after the victim allegedly made a pass at him.
His lawyer, Isabella Forshall KC, told the Old Bailey: “Mr Feld has got himself in a creepy place, he’s got himself lost. It’s dead of night.”
She said the defendant did not strike Mr Kankanamalage because he was a “homophobe” but because he “got the wrong end of the stick”.
Feld said when he saw the victim, he became worried he was going to be attacked and hit him in the back of the head with the hammer.
He claimed he swung out with the object several more times after he was pinned down on the ground.
However, prosecutor Mr Cavin dismissed Feld’s version of events as “inherently unlikely”, pointing out just one strike with the hammer would have incapacitated the victim.
The judge, Mr Justice Bryan, adjourned sentencing for a psychiatric report to be prepared on the defendant who has a personality disorder.