Monday 23 October 2017

Michaela murder: Widower John McAreavey attacks defence lies in court

David Young

THE widower of honeymooner Michaela McAreavey has called out at the trial of two men accused of her murder to brand a defence lawyer a liar.

John McAreavey's interjection from the court's public gallery came in response to claims defendant Avinash Treebhoowoon was tortured to extract a fabricated confession.



Barrister Sanjeev Teeluckdharry had been outlining the allegations of police brutality as he opened his defence case in the Supreme Court in Port Louis, Mauritius.



Mr McAreavey, seated in the front row of an otherwise quiet gallery, spoke loudly to make clear his view of the lawyer's account.



"Lies," he said audibly.



Treebhoowoon, 31, and Sandip Moneea, 42, deny strangling the daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte in the luxury Legends Hotel on the holiday island last January.



The defendants both worked at the gated beachside resort at the time and the prosecution claims they murdered the 27-year-old teacher when she walked in on them stealing in her room.



Mr Teeluckdharry, who began presenting his case as the trial entered its sixth week, did not react to Mr McAreavey's comment and continued with his opening address.



Earlier in the statement, which lasted over an hour, the lawyer had accused the 27-year-old widower of being "evasive and defensive" when he gave evidence to the court.



He was also heavily critical of all elements of the police investigation and expressed surprise that another former Legends employee - Dassen Naraynen - was not in the dock.



The ex-hotel security guard is facing a provisional conspiracy to commit larceny charge in connection with the case but police have stated in court that they do not believe he was involved in Mrs McAreavey's murder.



Mr Teeluckdharry pointed out that his client had the right not to take the stand to give evidence in his own defence.



But he said he would do so tomorrow in an effort to clear his name and detail exactly how he was treated by police.



"He will tell you how he was wrongly accused," said his lawyer.



"Not only, he will tell you how he was tortured relentlessly by unscrupulous police officers who were in an indecent haste to obtain a confession."



The defence counsel repeated some of the allegations which have already been levelled during the high-profile trial - that Treebhoowoon was beaten repeatedly, made to lie naked on a table and had his head plunged into a pail of water during interrogation.



"I have heard his ordeal many times and I must tell you I'm not immune from it," said Mr Teeluckdharry.



"I must tell you it's not for the faint-hearted."



It was in the middle of that line that Mr McAreavey made his remark.



He was sitting with his sister Claire, father Brendan and brother-in-law Mark Harte.



Mr Teeluckdharry insisted the claims of police violence were central to the case.



"Ladies and gentlemen, whilst deciding you will ultimately and indirectly be sending a signal," he asserted.



"Do you want a police force who resorts to brutality to obtain a confession, or do you want a police force that adopts a scientific approach to criminal investigation?"



He had earlier briefly reviewed the evidence of a number of the prosecution witnesses, accusing police officers of being evasive on the stand and on occasion telling "blatant lies" to the court.



Negatively characterising answers offered by the witnesses under cross-examination, he said: "The prosecution evidence from May 22 2012 up to last Friday (start and close of the state case) can be summarised as follows: 'I can't say, I don't remember, I personally did not do it, I was only acting under instructions, I have to check the records.'



"Ladies and gentlemen, the right to a fair trial includes the right to a fair and impartial inquiry.



"The question for you is, has there been a fair and impartial inquiry or has there been any inquiry at all?"



The lawyer noted that DNA tests carried out by a UK expert on swabs from Mrs McAreavey's body and the surrounding crime scene had found no link to the two accused.



"This report exculpates the two accused parties," he claimed.



Mr Teeluckdharry said the police had not offered a sufficient explanation why Mr McAreavey's DNA had been found on some samples.



He noted that potential genetic links to Naraynen had also been found - on a key card used to open the room and on a cupboard inside.



"I am surprised just like you why Mr Naraynen is not in the dock," he told the nine jurors.



The senior defence counsel also criticised the police's decision not to medically examine Mr McAreavey and Mr Naraynen in the wake of the death.



Mr Teeluckdharry later turned to the testimony given by Mr McAreavey when he appeared as a prosecution witness.



He said he answered questions "readily" when testifying to state counsel.



"But under cross-examination he became evasive and defensive," he claimed.



Mr McAreavey told court his wife left him at a poolside restaurant in Legends shortly before she died to fetch biscuits from the room for her tea.



He said he had offered to go for her, but she told him not to bother, as he had done that for her the night before.



But the defence subsequently claimed that account did not tally with electronic readings recording entries to their room - 1025 - on the night prior to the murder.



The next day in court Mr McAreavey's lawyer made a statement indicating his client had made an error and the incident when he retrieved the biscuits was actually two days before his wife died.



Today Mr Teeluckdharry voiced his scepticism.



"When cornered he could not establish the version of events," he said.



"The next day through counsel he wanted to correct his mistakes. But some mistakes can't be corrected, ladies and gentlemen."



The lawyer also questioned the reliability of testimony from the prosecution's key witness Raj Theekoy.



The fellow Legends employee, who was originally arrested and charged in relation to the murder, told court he heard a woman cry out in pain from Room 1025 shortly before seeing Treebhoowoon and Moneea exit from that direction.



Mr Theekoy was charged with conspiracy to commit murder but after 77 days in custody the case was dropped and he was later granted immunity from prosecution to testify in the trial.



Mr Teeluckdharry queried his motivation.



"Immunity was granted but under condition that he comes forward as witness for the prosecution," he said.



"Is he a witness of truth, can you believe him?"



He said a year ago Mr Theekoy told a provisional court hearing that his first objective when making a statement to police was to get out of jail.



"One year later he comes forward and says his first objective is to tell the truth," he added.



Mr Teeluckdharry claimed if he attempted to list all the shortcomings in Mr Theekoy's evidence the court would run out of time.



The lawyer acknowledged that claiming police violence could be a defence tactic in some cases.



But he urged jurors to look closely at the chronology of events, particularly the fact that Treebhoowoon made his first official complaint a day before he signed the confession statement.



"Complaints of police brutality can be defence tactics but it's not a defence tactic in this present case," he insisted.



He told the court that the only circumstances a confession could be relied upon was if the jury was sure it was obtained through regular means and voluntarily.



As he approached the end of his speech, Mr Teeluckdharry directly addressed the jurors.



"Ladies and gentlemen, you are sovereign judges of the facts of this case.



"Judging means dispensing justice, judging means convicting the guilty, judging also means acquitting the innocent.



"The scales of justice have been entrusted in your noble hands."



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