Monday 25 September 2017

Michaela McAreavey trial: Key witness accused of lying in court

Raj Theekoy, room attendant at the legends hotel, and witness for the prosecution, arrives at the Supreme Court in Port Louis. Photo: PA
Raj Theekoy, room attendant at the legends hotel, and witness for the prosecution, arrives at the Supreme Court in Port Louis. Photo: PA
Raj Theekoy, the prosecution's star witness in the Michaela McAreavey murder trial, and his wife, Manisha, outside the Mauritian Supreme Court yesterday
John McAreavey and wife Michaela McAreavey on their wedding day

David Young in Port Louis, Mauritius

A HOTEL cleaner who has implicated two men on trial for murdering Michaela McAreavey in Mauritius has been accused of lying in court.

Raj Theekoy, who was arrested in the wake of the honeymooner's death, also faced claims that his desire to get out of prison influenced his witness statement to police.

Mr Theekoy alleges he saw defendants Sandip Moneea and Avinash Treebhoowoon leave room 1025 of the island's Legends Hotel minutes after hearing a woman inside scream in pain.

But the court heard claims that Mr Theekoy was drinking tea and joking with Treebhoowoon in the hotel's staff canteen an hour after the daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte was found strangled in the room.

The key prosecution witness denied he had been untruthful on the stand when defence lawyer Rama Valayden challenged: "You are lying."

Mr Theekoy replied: "Whatever I have seen or heard is the same as what I have told the court."

The prosecution says 27-year-old teacher Mrs McAreavey was murdered after she left her husband John at a poolside restaurant in the hotel to fetch biscuits from her room, only to walk in on Moneea and Treebhoowoon stealing.

Mr McAreavey is due to take the witness stand in the high-profile trial at the Supreme Court in Port Louis tomorrow morning. While he has been on the island throughout the last 11 days of evidence, he has been unable to attend court proceedings until called to give evidence.

Aside from Mr Theekoy's cross-examination, the trial today heard from the waiter who served the couple lunch minutes before the honeymooner was murdered, and the doctor who pronounced her dead as she lay on the floor of her room.

Before they gave evidence Mr Theekoy faced rigorous questioning.

After the murder, the room attendant told police he went straight home after finishing work that day and claimed he did not initially report what he saw because he was scared and Moneea threatened him

But Mr Valayden, who produced CCTV images of Mr Theekoy near the canteen, claimed he and Treebhoowoon were having a joke about Moneea at around 3.45pm.

"I tell you that you were beside accused number one (Treebhoowoon) and bought tea and sugar for him and you were joking to him about accused number two (Moneea) - that he was just married and he had to go home early," said the lawyer.

The witness said he did not fully remember the incident but rejected the lawyer's characterisation of it.

"I don't drink tea, I was just sitting there," he said.

A lawyer for Treebhoowoon later pointed Mr Theekoy to a statement he made at a previous court hearing claiming he had been in the canteen earlier on the day and had been drinking tea.

In response to Sanjeev Teeluckdharry's question, Mr Theekoy replied: "I wanted to say I went to drink juice but I said tea to the court."

He later tried to explain that he used the phrase "going for tea" to describe going for any drink with his colleagues in the canteen.

Fellow room cleaner Treebhoowoon, 31, from Plaine des Roches, and floor supervisor Moneea, 42, from Petit Raffray, deny murdering the Irish language and religious education teacher in the gated beachside complex last January.

Mrs McAreavey's father-in-law, Brendan McAreavey, and sister-in-law, Claire McAreavey, were in court to watch the witness being cross-examined.

Mr Theekoy was originally provisionally charged with conspiracy to murder, but that case was dropped and he was granted immunity from prosecution.

Mr Teeluckdharry pressed the witness on his 77 days spent in jail in connection with the case.

He asked Mr Theekoy if, when he was giving his first statement to police implicating the defendants, his mind was on personal issues, such as an outstanding loan and the welfare of his wife and family.

"Was your first objective to get out of jail?" Mr Teeluckdharry asked.

The witness, who was giving evidence in his native French Creole, said his priority was "the truth".

Throughout cross-examination, Mr Theekoy was pressed by both defence lawyers to explain apparent inconsistencies between his statements to police and what he said to court.

Issues included:

- Whether he had a clear sight of room 1025 from his viewpoint beside room 1021 when he claims the defendants emerged.

- The fact that times he said he entered rooms to clean them prior to the murder did not appear to tally with electronic key card readings.

- Whether Treebhoowoon appeared worried and anxious when he saw him. Lawyers claimed Mr Theekoy mentioned this in some statements but not others.

- Why he did not mention Moneea coming out of the room when he initially detailed his account to detectives. Mr Theekoy claimed he only remembered about Moneea when he took part in a reconstruction exercise at the hotel.

The witness maintained he was telling the truth to court.

There had been gasps from sections of the public gallery yesterday when Mr Valayden produced phone records that showed Mr Theekoy had called his wife at 2.47pm on the day of the murder - a time when according to his police statements he was hiding near room 1021 waiting to see who would emerge from 1025.

Under re-examination by the prosecution, the witness said he was calling home to see how his son was getting on on his first day at school.

The trial also heard from doctor Vamachandra Sunassee, who was called to Legends after Mrs McAreavey was discovered.

The medic, who was accompanied by a nurse, said there were no signs of life when he examined her body.

He said no one else was in room 1025 by the time he arrived at 4pm.

"I saw a lady lying on the floor, she was on her back near the bathroom, the steps of the bathroom," he said.

"Firstly when I observed the lady I noticed she was not breathing, there were no breathing movements and then I knelt down and I didn't hear any breathing sound.

"There were no heart sounds also, then when I lifted her pupils both the pupils I saw were fixed and dilated. I concluded that the person was dead."

Asked whether he noticed any injuries, he said: "I observed there was a scratch mark on the right side of her neck."

Mr Teeluckdharry asked the doctor a number of questions about the state of the room, but the medic said he had not been paying attention to anything but Mrs McAreavey.

Mark L'Olive, a supervisor at the Banyon restaurant at Legends, recalled how Mrs McAreavey had ordered a cup of tea from him minutes before her murder.

He was on duty when the honeymooner and her husband lunched by the poolside on the day she died.

"I don't remember what type of tea she ordered," he said.

"It takes about three minutes to prepare the tea. When I returned to leave the tea at table number six only Mr John was sitting but his wife wasn't there.

"He said, 'place the tea on the table and my wife will return'."

Mr L'Olive, who also gave evidence for the prosecution in French Creole, said Mr McAreavey waited for around 15 minutes before settling up and walking off.

"He asked to sign the bill," he said.

"He said his wife isn't coming so he's leaving."

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