independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Prosecutors in Peru announce they are ready to do deal with Michaella McCollum Connolly

Michaella and co-accused Melissa Reid will now likely avoid a trial and get a shorter jail term

Michaella McCollum Connolly with Melissa Reid, above, after their arrest

PROSECUTORS have announced they are ready to strike a deal with the Peru Two and pave the way for the drugs pair to receive shortened jail sentences.

Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum had their hopes of a deal dashed in September after state prosecutors rejected their guilty pleas and demanded they gave more information.

But a new prosecutor tasked with their case has told the judge who was due to try them he is happy with amplified statements they made in October.

The U-turn means Melissa and Michaella, both 20, are now expected to benefit from an early termination process whereby drugs mules are spared a trial and automatically receive a sixth off a minimum eight-year sentence.

The pair were told late last week a sentencing hearing would take place tomorrow.

But their hopes of an end to the uncertainty of how long they face in a hellhole Peruvian jail were crushed today when they were informed the hearing had been cancelled because of a judicial strike.

A new date for the hearing has yet to be set.

Officials said they could offer no guarantee it will now take place before Christmas.

Chief prosecutor Gustavo Carvajal, who took over the Peru Two's case from predecessor Juan Mendoza In October, confirmed: "We have submitted our report to the judge in charge of the case and state in that report we are happy for Melissa and Michaella to benefit from the early termination process.

"We have taken that decision after careful analysis of the case.

"The sentence the women receive is a decision for the judge. The minimum sentence for drugs trafficking is eight years and the maximum 15.

"There is provision under Peruvian law for a reduced sentence but it is by no means a foregone conclusion in this case.

"It will all depend on the outcome of the sentencing hearing.

"We had expected the hearing to take place this week were it not for the ongoing judicial strike."

A spokesman for the court in the Lima neighbourhood of Callao tasked with the womens' case added: "I can confirm the sentencing hearing was due to take place on Tuesday December 10.

"The reading of the sentence has been postponed due to an ongoing judges' strike.

"A new date will be announced as and when we know it."

Melissa, from Lenzie near Glasgow, and Michaella, from Dungannon, northern Ireland, have been languishing in jail since their arrests in August.

They were stopped with more than 11 kilos of cocaine in their suitcases as they tried to board a flight from Lima to Spain.

They protested their innocence for weeks after their arrests - before finally coming clean and admitting they knew they were carrying cocaine.

They have continued to claim they were coerced into smuggling the drugs by armed criminals they say kidnapped them in Ibiza where they were working over the summer.

Melissa's mum Debbie visited her daughter for the first time in prison last month.

She revealed after the emotional visit the girls have to endure a military-style regime at Virgen de Fatima Prison in a rundown Lima suburb, where they share a cell with 38 other prisoners and cold showers and dawn wake-up calls are the norm.

Melissa and Michaella are hoping that if accepted within the early termination process, they will receive prison sentences of six years and eight months each.

The time they have already spent in custody will be taken into account.

It is expected they will apply for permission to serve part of their sentence in a UK jail once they have paid the Peruvian state compensation for their crimes.

Dr Carvajal declined to comment today on whether the British women had given state prosecutors more information on the men they claim coerced them into drugs trafficking.

His predecessor offered the pair the chance of freedom before Christmas if they helped police capture the men and testified against them in a trial.

Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum had their hopes of a deal dashed in September after state prosecutors rejected their guilty pleas and demanded they gave more information.

But a new prosecutor tasked with their case has told the judge who was due to try them he is happy with amplified statements they made in October.

The U-turn means Melissa and Michaella, both 20, are now expected to benefit from an early termination process whereby drugs mules are spared a trial and automatically receive a sixth off a minimum eight-year sentence.

The pair were told late last week a sentencing hearing would take place tomorrow.

But their hopes of an end to the uncertainty of how long they face in a hellhole Peruvian jail were crushed today when they were informed the hearing had been cancelled because of a judicial strike.

A new date for the hearing has yet to be set.

Officials said they could offer no guarantee it will now take place before Christmas.

Chief prosecutor Gustavo Carvajal, who took over the Peru Two's case from predecessor Juan Mendoza In October, confirmed: "We have submitted our report to the judge in charge of the case and state in that report we are happy for Melissa and Michaella to benefit from the early termination process.

"We have taken that decision after careful analysis of the case.

"The sentence the women receive is a decision for the judge. The minimum sentence for drugs trafficking is eight years and the maximum 15.

"There is provision under Peruvian law for a reduced sentence but it is by no means a foregone conclusion in this case.

"It will all depend on the outcome of the sentencing hearing.

"We had expected the hearing to take place this week were it not for the ongoing judicial strike."

A spokesman for the court in the Lima neighbourhood of Callao tasked with the womens' case added: "I can confirm the sentencing hearing was due to take place on Tuesday December 9.

"The reading of the sentence has been postponed due to an ongoing judges' strike.

"A new date will be announced as and when we know it."

Melissa, from Lenzie near Glasgow, and Michaella, from Dungannon, northern Ireland, have been languishing in jail since their arrests in August.

They were stopped with more than 11 kilos of cocaine in their suitcases as they tried to board a flight from Lima to Spain.

They protested their innocence for weeks after their arrests - before finally coming clean and admitting they knew they were carrying cocaine.

They have continued to claim they were coerced into smuggling the drugs by armed criminals they say kidnapped them in Ibiza where they were working over the summer.

Melissa's mum Debbie visited her daughter for the first time in prison last month.

She revealed after the emotional visit the girls have to endure a military-style regime at Virgen de Fatima Prison in a rundown Lima suburb, where they share a cell with 38 other prisoners and cold showers and dawn wake-up calls are the norm.

Melissa and Michaella are hoping that if accepted within the early termination process, they will receive prison sentences of six years and eight months each.

The time they have already spent in custody will be taken into account.

It is expected they will apply for permission to serve part of their sentence in a UK jail once they have paid the Peruvian state compensation for their crimes.

Dr Carvajal declined to comment today on whether the British women had given state prosecutors more information on the men they claim coerced them into drugs trafficking.

His predecessor offered the pair the chance of freedom before Christmas if they helped police capture the men and testified against them in a trial.

Gerard Couzens

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