Sunday 25 June 2017

Michaela Harte murder suspects to face full trial

Luke Byrne and Mayessen Nagapa-Chetty

THE two men accused of strangling Michaela Harte should face trial for her murder, a preliminary inquiry into the evidence against them has decided

The verdict, issued yesterday by the District Court in Mapou, Mauritius, brought an end to the primary stage of the Mauritian justice process.

It followed more than a month of hearings and means that former Legends Hotel employees Avinash Treebhowon (30) and Sandip Moneea (41) will almost certainly face a full murder trial -- although a trial date has not been set.

Both men have denied murdering 27-year-old Michaela as she honeymooned on the Indian Ocean island with her husband, John McAreavey, on January 10 this year.

Magistrate Sheila Bonomally's judgment, following a short sitting yesterday, was a recommendation to the state Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that the men be charged with murder. She could have advised that the men face a lesser charge or that the charges be dropped altogether.

The proceedings were fraught with accusations that the men were receiving an unfair hearing and had been beaten by police.

In total, 11 witnesses gave evidence during the inquiry, which was originally expected to last three days. The court was shown pictures of Michaela's body after she had been found in the bathroom of Room 1025 of the hotel.

It also heard a contested confession by Mr Treebhowon, in which he alleged that Mr Moneea strangled Michaela when she walked into the room as they were trying to steal money from her wallet.

Mr Moneea said they "had to kill her" because she would have been able to identify them, it was alleged.

"This court has a probable presumption that you are guilty," Ms Bonomally told the accused yesterday. She said the court's judgment was a "temporary one" until the DPP made a final decision. She explained to the accused that the court "did not condemn" them on a charge of murder.

Families of the men last night expressed their anger about the turn of events and the possibility of their loved ones facing a murder trial.

"My husband is innocent, it is very hard that we are now contemplating a trial. I wished it had ended here, I will keep on supporting my husband and I firmly believe he is innocent," said Reshma Treebhowon.

The wife of murder accused Mr Moneea described the police inquiry and the preliminary inquiry as a "joke".

"The real culprit is out having a good time while innocents will probably face a murder trial," Rekha Moneea said.

A decision by the DPP, about when to lodge a murder trial with the Supreme Court, is expected in a number of weeks.

The men face 60 years in prison if convicted.

The police are under political pressure to secure a conviction, many locals believe.

Charges against another Legends hotel worker, Dassen Narayanen, were reduced to conspiracy to commit theft.

Irish Independent

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