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Friday 17 January 2020

'I found her in a secluded stretch of land' - Farmer gives evidence in Danielle McLaughlin murder trial

Danielle McLaughlin was murdered while travelling in Goa
Danielle McLaughlin was murdered while travelling in Goa
Danielle McLaughlin was murdered on March 14, 2017

Aishwarya Guha in India

A farmer who found the body of Irish backpacker Danielle McLaughlin gave evidence today at the Sessions Court of Margao, South Goa.

Today was the second evidentiary hearing in the trial of Vikat Bhagat, who has been charged with murdering and raping the Donegal woman.

The 28-year-old was found lying dead — with her hands and legs neatly outstretched — in an isolated stretch of land between Agonda and Canacona beaches.

Prashant Komarpanth, the farmer who found the body on the way to his farm on the morning of March 13, about 150m 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.

After establishing in the previous rounds of cross examination, that the witness could not be clearly identified in the photos from the crime scene, the attorney resumed the cross examination today, focusing mainly on panchnama (meaning the record of observation by five people) of the crime scene.

Panchanama or the mediator’s report is statement of persons present at the scene of offence, and is a very 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 at the crime scene.

Prashant Komarpanth testified before the court: “The photos of the body being taken and the panchanama was completed between 9:30pm - 10pm though the body was left untouched. The police removed the body only by 2pm the same afternoon.”

The mediator’s report records all pieces of evidence found at the scene, including a sketch and description of the scene, along with noting the persons present at the scene of offence.

All articles are then stored in a sealed envelope to be presented to the court during trial.

When asked about the same, Mr. Komarpanth said: “I do not know what envelope you are referring to.”

In fact, all evidence was then saved onto a hard disc. The disc couldn’t be presented before the court because of a password discrepancy.

Judge Sayonara Telles, who is presiding over the case, ordered the same to be recovered, by the next hearing.

Next, the defending attorney questioned him about the location where Danielle's body was found.

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.”

With that the cross examination ended, as the courts set the date for the next hearing on April 24, when the court will call upon the second witness, Mr Stevens. He was one of the mediators at the crime scene who wrote the mediator’s report.

Today’s hearing was attended by two of Danielle’s friends — Sun Ithilwen (49), an Australian citizen who works as a yoga teacher, and Deanne Evenrud (40), an American citizen — live around the same Canacona area and had known Danielle from her travels in India.

While Sun knew Danielle from their travels together in Rishikesh, a hillside town in India, Deanne befriended her at the same Holi party where Danielle 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 or doing drugs,” said Deanne, outside the court.

“The accused, Vikat Bhagat, was locally known. Danielle knew him from her previous visits to India and was taking his hep looking for emergency accommodation in the area.”

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