Wednesday 19 September 2018

Young Donegal woman knew man accused of her brutal murder in Goa, friend reveals

Vikhat Bhagat, accused of raping and murdering Danielle McLaughlin, is escorted by a police officer in India
Vikhat Bhagat, accused of raping and murdering Danielle McLaughlin, is escorted by a police officer in India

Aishwarya Guha in Goa

A FRIEND of murdered Irish backpacker Danielle McLaughlin has said the 28-year-old knew the man who is accused of her rape and murder.

Two of the Donegal native's friends attended the second day of the murder trial of Vikat Bhagat in south Goa yesterday.

Mr Bhagat has been charged with the murder and rape of Ms McLaughlin, whose body was discovered on an isolated patch of land between the Agonda and Canacona beaches.

Australian citizen Sun Ithilwen (49), who works as a yoga teacher, and Deanne Evenrud (40) were present for the second evidentiary hearing yesterday.

American Ms Evenrud lives in the Canacona area and had met Ms McLaughlin at the same Holi party where Ms McLaughlin was last seen.

"It was a children's Holi party that had been happening every year for the last 10 years, till last year. [It was] not the kind of wild tourist parties where everyone would be drinking," said Ms Evenrud.

Danielle McLaughlin was murdered in India
Danielle McLaughlin was murdered in India

She added: "The accused, Vikat Bhagat, was locally known as a criminal and committed petty crimes such as thefts and burglaries.

"But we had never thought that he could be such a violent aggressor, who could pose a danger to someone's life.

"Danielle knew him from her previous visits to India and was taking his help looking for emergency accommodation in the area."

Earlier at the Sessions Court in Margao a farmer who found the body of Ms McLaughlin gave evidence.

Ms McLaughlin was found dead in a pool of blood, with her hands and legs outstretched, in a secluded area.

Prashant Komarpanth, the farmer who found the body on the way to his farm on the morning of March 13, about 150 metres off of the main road, was the first witness presented by the state.

His cross examination was carried over from the first hearing on April 6 by the defendant's attorney - advocate Arun Brar De Sa.

At a previous hearing it had been established that the witness could not be clearly identified in the photos from the crime scene.

The attorney resumed his cross examination yesterday, focusing mainly on panchanama, which means the record of observation by five people at the crime scene.

This is also known as the mediator's report and forms an important piece of documentation for criminal legal proceedings in India.

It is used by the courts to check veracity and truthfulness of the action taken by the officers at the scene, and is required to be noted by two independent witnesses. Mr Komarpanth told the court: "The photos of the body being taken and the panchanama was completed between 9.30pm and 10pm though the body was left untouched.

"The police removed the body only by 2pm the same afternoon."

Body

The defending attorney questioned him about the location where Ms McLaughlin's body was found.

Mr Komarpanth noted: "A secluded stretch of land, off of the highway, is where Danielle's body was found.

"The area is often visited by couples and groups (of tourists).

"They sit around and drink, and leave empty bottles around."

The cross examination ended at that point, as the courts set the date for the next hearing on April 24.

At the next hearing the court will call upon the second witness, one of the mediators at the crime scene who wrote the mediator's report.

Irish Independent

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