Michaela murder trial: Prosecution closes case after jury visits Legends hotel
THE prosecution has closed its case against two men accused of murdering Michaela McAreavey after the defendants and jurors visited the Mauritian hotel where the honeymooner was found dead.
A day has been set aside for legal argument in the trial tomorrow, ahead of the anticipated hearing of the first defence opening statement later in the week.
Security was tight outside the Lux hotel, formerly named Legends, as accused Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea, both ex-employees, were driven inside today to observe as the jury was given a private tour of the crime scene and other relevant locations.
Afterwards, proceedings returned to the Supreme Court in Port Louis, where it was confirmed that a bellboy who was one of the first at Room 1025 when the Co Tyrone teacher was found strangled would not be giving evidence because prosecutors had been unable to trace his whereabouts as he is now working on a cruise ship.
Lawyers for the state and defence briefly argued whether Mrs McAreavey's widower, John, could be considered an "independent" witness, before judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah asked chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan if he would be calling any more evidence.
The barrister replied: "No, my lord. I close the case for the state."
Earlier, the nine jurors and two defendants were accompanied by Mr Justice Fecknah and defence and prosecution lawyers on the hour- and-a-half exercise at the gated beachside resort in the north of the island at Grand Gaube.
The party were shown the since-renumbered Room 1025 where the daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte was strangled last January.
They were also taken to the nearby poolside restaurant where she lunched with her husband before her death.
The prosecution claim she left him there to return to the room to fetch biscuits for her tea and walked in on Treebhoowoon and Moneea stealing. They deny murder.
Barristers for both men had made a joint motion to court requesting that the jury visit take place.
Police officers patrolled outside the main gate and on the shore line in a bid to ensure no unauthorised people gained access to the hotel during the morning.
The jury were also shown 10 other rooms that have been mentioned during the previous 20 days of the trial and other significant hotel sites and landmarks referred to in court.
Legends was renamed the Lux Hotel following the murder.
Mr Manrakhan and defence lawyers Rama Valayden, representing Moneea, and Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, for Treebhoowoon, were in attendance on site.
When proceedings resumed in court, the judge asked the defendants whether they wished to make any comments on the visit or raise any concerns.
Through an interpreter, Creole speaker Treebhoowoon, 31, from Plaine des Roches, said he had no comments to make.
Moneea, 42, from Petit Raffray, then leaned down to the microphone in the dock and said: "No, my lord."
Lawyers on all sides then stated they were satisfied with the visit and so did the foreman of the jury.
The judge said notes of the visit taken by a court clerk would be entered into the official record.
"The visit to the locus now forms part of the evidence in this case," he said.
No members of the Harte or McAreavey families were in court for the exchanges.
Focus then turned to witness number 28 on the prosecution list - former Legends bellboy Rajiv Bhujun.
Mr Manrakhan told the judge he would be unable to produce him to court.
"I wish to inform court that Mr Bhujun is not in the country," he said.
"We are given to understand that he's taken up employment on a cruise ship and we are not in a position to reach him and have him tendered for cross-examination."
Mr McAreavey has told the trial he was unable to access his room when he went to look for his wife and so walked to reception to get a new key.
Staff sent Mr Bhujun back with him to Room 1025 to open the door. He claims he did not enter but has told police moments later he heard Mr McAreavey scream and rushed back to see his wife lying motionless on the floor.
The judge asked if all efforts had been made to trace the witness.
"All efforts have been made to get in contact with him but to no avail," replied Mr Manrakhan.
Mr Teeluckdharry then asked the court if the bellboy's statements could be admitted as evidence, claiming: "He was the first independent witness to be present on the locus."
Mr Manrakhan objected to the statements being admitted and then queried his rival counsel's choice of words.
"I wish to put it on record that my friend refers to Mr Bhujun as the first independent witness. I don't know what he means by this - John McAreavey is also an independent witness in this case," he said.
Mr Teeluckdharry said he meant the bellboy had no connection with the case.
The judge said it was appropriate to describe Mr Bhujun as one of the first witnesses on the scene.
When Mr Manrakhan confirmed that he would be calling no further witnesses, the judge told the jury that the state case had come to a close.
"The prosecution has put before you all the evidence on which it's relying to prove the case," he said.
Mr Teeluckdharry then produced a list of the witnesses he proposed to call.
The jury was sent out to allow lawyers to discuss issues related to the list.
When they returned, the judge informed the jurors that they would not be required to attend court tomorrow.
"There is a point of law that has been raised which has to be debated," he said.
He told them to return to court on Thursday morning.