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Saturday 23 September 2017

Michaela murder trial: No DNA from accused found at murder scene or on her body

Michaela McAreavey pictured with her husband John on their wedding day (Irish News/PA)
Avinash Treebhoowon arrives at the Supreme Court in Port Louis, Mauritius on day five of the trial, for the murder of Michaela McAreavey. Photo: PA
Sandip Mooneea, 43, arrives at the Supreme court
Michaela with John McAreavey. Photo: PA

David Young in Port Louis, Mauritius

FORENSIC tests on the body of Michaela McAreavey found no DNA from the two men accused of murdering her, their trial in Mauritius heard today.

Swabs taken from the hotel room where the honeymooner was strangled and sent to the UK for analysis did not contain genetic material belonging to hotel employees Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea, the jury was told.

The 27-year-old daughter of Tyrone gaelic football manager Mickey Harte was found dead in the bath of her and her husband John's room in the luxury Legends Hotel on the island last January.

The fifth day of the trial heard that the teacher may have died from neck injuries sustained from an armlock, rather than strangulation by the hands, and that initial reports she had a head injury were incorrect.

The crime scene samples were handed to Cellmark Forensic Services lab in England for testing. Cellmark expert Susan Woodroffe was also asked to examine whether the DNA of two other original suspects in the case, fellow Legends employees Raj Theekoy and Dassen Naraynen, was present on the samples.

Giving evidence to the criminal court in the Mauritian capital Port Louis, Ms Woodroffe noted that unidentified genetic traces other than Mrs McAreavey's or her husband John's were found on the samples.

But in relation to samples taken from Mrs McAreavey's neck, feet and fingernails, she told the court: "There is no specific indication that any of Raj Theekoy, Sandip Moneea, Avinash Treebhoowoon or Dassen Naraynen have contributed to the results obtained."

Genetic material not belonging to Mrs McAreavey or her widower was found on a sample taken from her head.

Ms Woodroffe said that if it was from a sole contributor then all four men could be ruled out.

The forensics specialist told the court that DNA samples left on the victim's body could have washed off when she was placed in the bath water.

While Ms Woodroffe found no matches from the four men on swabs taken from the victim's body, she did identify a potential match with Naraynen on a key card for the room.

"The majority contributor to this (DNA) profile matches that of Dassen Naraynen, as such it could have originated from him," she told the jury.

The expert said a possible DNA match for Naraynen was also identified on a cupboard in the room but she stressed that could be a chance observation in results and not actually proof that he touched it.

Naraynen, who the trial has already heard had a conspiracy-to-murder charge against him dropped, is facing a larceny (theft) charge in connection with the case in separate court proceedings.

Mr Theekoy, whose charge of conspiracy to murder was also dropped, is set to give evidence against Treebhoowoon and Moneea in the trial, after claiming he saw them both exit the McAreaveys' room moments after he heard a female screaming out in pain inside.

Treebhoowoon, 30, and Moneea, 42, deny the premeditated murder of the Irish language teacher.

Mrs McAreavey was found dead shortly after lunching with her husband by the pool at Legends. The prosecution claims that she returned to her room to fetch biscuits for her tea and caught the accused stealing in her room.

Earlier a policeman remained silent when asked what he did with Treebhoowoon the morning after the crime.

Treebhoowoon alleges that police beat a confession out of him in the wake of Mrs McAreavey's death.

Constable Hans Rouwin Seevathian of the major crime investigation team was questioned by a defence solicitor about what he and his team did with his client in a two-and-a-half hour period between them arriving at Legends and Treebhoowoon making a statement in a local police station.

The court fell silent as the officer did not offer an answer.

After a few moments judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah intervened.

"Let the record show that the witness remains silent to this question," he said.

When further pressed, the officer told defence counsel Sanjeev Teeluckdharry that he was questioning the accused about his movements.

But he repeatedly answered "I can't remember" to a series of other questions posed by the lawyer about his involvement with the accused in the days after the murder.

Mrs McAreavey's father-in-law Brendan McAreavey and her sister-in-law Claire McAreavey watched the exchanges from the public gallery. Her widower John has returned to the island but cannot be in court until he gives evidence as a prosecution witness.

After giving her evidence-in-chief to the prosecution, Ms Woodroffe was cross-examined by defence lawyers for Treebhoowoon and Moneea.

She told Mr Teeluckdharry that an expert from the forensic lab in Mauritius had informed her during the investigation that the victim may not have been strangled by hand.

"I was originally told it was manual strangulation," she said.

"But I heard it may be an armlock as opposed to manual strangulation."

Ms Woodroffe said she was told that initial reports that Mrs McAreavey had sustained a head injury were incorrect. The injury was ruled out in a report by the Mauritian police's chief medical officer, the court heard.

The lawyer asked the expert if a copy of the medical report would have helped her investigation.

"It might have done, yes," she said, revealing that she had requested a copy but never received it.

Mr Teeluckdharry asked if the presence of John McAreavey's DNA on his wife's neck was evidence of prolonged contact.

Ms Woodroffe said she was unable to tell, as even a brief touch from a person who sheds DNA readily could have left such a trace.

The barrister then listed areas both on the body of the victim and in the room which Ms Woodroffe was not asked to test, such as a belt, the surfaces of the bathtub and Mrs McAreavey's clothing.

Ms Woodroffe said that some of the analysis would have been done in Mauritian labs.

She then agreed with counsel Rama Valayden, representing Moneea, that the preservation of the crime scene was essential.

Mr Valayden also asked her if was she aware that four fingerprints not linked to the accused or the victim were also found at the scene of crime.

"I am not aware of that," she replied.

Noting guidelines that see crime scene officers provide their own DNA samples to forensics to help eliminate their profiles from analysis, Ms Woodroffe revealed that she did not receive all samples of the Mauritius police officers involved.

She also told the court that she had not been asked to carry out any tests on a purse found in the room.

One of the main entrances to the Supreme Court in Port Louis was blocked before the start of proceedings because part of a tree fell down in high winds the night before.

The case against Treebhoowoon, from Plaine des Roches, and Moneea, from Petit Raffray, was scheduled to last two weeks but is set to go on for much longer. Judge Fecknah said a "lengthy trial" was ahead.

Mrs McAreavey, from Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, was the only daughter of Harte, the GAA boss who has steered his native county to three All Ireland championships.

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