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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Michaella to plead guilty on drug charge

Published 24/09/2013 | 04:00

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Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly

MICHAELLA McCollum Connolly has decided to plead guilty when she appears in court today in Peru.

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Ms McCollum Connolly (pictured) said that she took the decision following conversations with her lawyer Meyer Fishman.

The Irishwoman and her co-accused, Glaswegian woman Melissa Reid, were charged with the illegal trafficking of just over 5kg of cocaine each and have been held on remand in the Virgen de Fatima women's prison in Peru's capital, Lima.

Ms Reid had already decided to plead guilty in order to get a reduced prison term.

"I understand that the (judicial) process will be simpler if we both plead guilty," said the Co Tyrone student last night.

"We are hoping that we will not have to wait too long before we are sentenced and pleading guilty will speed things up," she added.

Ms McCollum Connolly said both women were "nervous" about appearing in court and anxious to learn their fate.

"We have heard so many rumours about the possibility of early release or serving our sentence at home, that it is difficult to know what to believe.

"We are trying not to get our hopes up," she added.

A recent change to the law meant the two women were the first people accused of drug trafficking to have their initial hearing held in public court.

These new regulations could mean good news for the women.

First-time offenders also have the possibility of conditional release, depending on the crime.

It is likely that Meyer Fishman, Ms McCollum Connolly's and Ms Reid's lawyer, will then attempt to negotiate to have the women sent home to serve out their sentence.

One of the basis for his argument could be the cost to the state of maintaining two foreign nationals in the country's already overcrowded jails.

Mr Fishman said it was unlikely that the women would be sentenced today.

Ms McCollum Connolly and Ms Reid, both aged 20, have been in prison since last month after they were caught with ¿1.7m worth of cocaine in their suitcases at Lima Airport.

They confessed to investigators that they knew there were drugs in their bags but that they had been forced to smuggle the cocaine by a criminal gang.

The pair have spoken of life in the women's prison in Chorrillos, south-west Lima, saying it is difficult to cope.

It has been reported that they face face a minimum of six years and eight months in prison, even if they plead guilty.

But prosecutor Juan Bautista Mendoza said a further sentence reduction was possible if the women co-operated as witnesses against co-conspirators.

By Martina Hanlon

Irish Independent

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