Friday 22 September 2017

Exhuming body could help find Michaela's killer

Vital DNA evidence missed by Mauritius police could solve murder, says top scientist

Lynne Kelleher

Exhumation of the body of Michaela McAreavey could provide fresh DNA evidence which could lead police to her killer, according to a top cold case forensic scientist.

A new CBS documentary – Donal MacIntyre: Murder in Paradise – highlights the failure of the original police investigation to glean vital evidence from the crime scene of her hotel room after she was brutally strangled on her Mauritian honeymoon in January 2011.

In the documentary, Tracy Alexander, Head of Cold Case LSC Forensics, said advances in science meant even the smallest piece of forensic material could help to crack the case more than two years on from the murder of the newlywed Irish teacher.

"Unnecessary distress is not the purpose of a forensic laboratory or a police service", she said. "However, taking into the account that potentially you could give resolution to a family by conducting an exhumation, there is huge potential to be gained because the technology we use is such that until you look you don't know what is there.

"All is not lost. There is no case we would never look at it. There is always something to look at. All you need is a small amount of source material; you can really get some wonderful successes."

The Irish beauty queen and her husband John McAreavey were on day three of their honeymoon on the tropical island when she was killed after going to their room to pick up her favourite biscuits.

The documentary delves into why the investigation into the murder in the honeymoon suite – which appears to be the perfect crime scene – went so badly wrong.

Over the course of the following 18 months the police arrested and prosecuted two hotel workers for her murder but both claimed that their confessions were forced out of them and the pair were later acquitted.

With the spotlight now on a new suspect and a fresh investigation, the documentary cold case team examines how the pursuit of extra DNA evidence from an exhumed body could still yield clues to her murder.

One of Ireland's most experienced homicide detectives, Alan Bailey, who worked on the CBS documentary as a cold case specialist, said the newlywed was killed as the result of pressure from a hand and forearm during a struggle with a mystery assailant.

The former detective, who retired last year from the Garda's Serious Crime Review Team, said DNA from her mouth and fingernails held the key to solving the crime.

During the lengthy trial of hotel workers Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea, it emerged that genetic material from the murdered bride's feet and fingernails had been sent to a forensic laboratory in the UK but there was no indication if the science lab was sent any mouth swabs for examination.

If the mouth swabs were not taken, Mr Bailey said the McAreavey and Harte families may have to face the prospect of Michaela's body being exhumed. He said: "She would have been shipped home in a sealed casket and there is no reason why the DNA would not still be available from her remains.

"It is far from an ideal prospect for the family but the investigation does not appear to have been carried out in an ideal way.

"It is possible that all the evidence that is required to re-examine this case is available in Mauritius. Even if swabs or evidence is stored in a drawer somewhere, it can be used. DNA doesn't perish."

The documentary presented by Donal MacIntyre put forward the theory that the murderer killed Michaela in the bathroom of her honeymoon suite after she stumbled upon him hiding out in the toilet.

Criminal profiler Professor David Wilson, who is head of Criminology in Birmingham City University, said he believed there would have been strong forensic evidence left behind by the killer on the original crime scene.

"This was someone who was panicking and this was somebody disorganised. This was somebody therefore who left quite a bit of evidence in the room itself that the police should have been able to harness very quickly in bringing the correct suspect to justice."

He did also say that a lot of evidence would have been washed off her body when her killer put her into a bathtub full of water.

"By placing her body in the bath you also destroy a significant amount of forensic evidence. If you put the body in the bath, you are literally washing away the contact between the perpetrator and the victim."

He said the hotel location of the murder should have made the crime much easier to solve for police.

"Admittedly people can come and go but this is relatively easy to solve because there should be CCTV and people would be able to determine where you were at different times at particular points in the day.

"And also classically this disorganised crime scene would have quite a lot of forensic evidence which you could use to also identify the perpetrator."

Prof Wilson said the Mauritanian police's assertion that they had a 100 per cent record on solving murders in recent years was worrying.

"No police force in any criminal jurisdiction I'm aware of has a 100 per cent success rate. Any police force that claims that, the alarms bells start to ring for me in terms of people being fitted up rather than evidence being the criteria on which suspects will be arrested and evidence placed before juries."

He said he hoped the spotlight on the case would ensure the new team investigated the case thoroughly.

He said: "The only hope is that there had been enough international and external pressure to ensure enough people in the Mauritian justice system ensure this police investigation is appropriately investigated."

'Donal MacIntyre: Murder in Paradise' will be shown on CBS Reality at 9pm on Sunday, June 30

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News