Sunday 18 March 2018

‘Michaela strangled in two minute struggle’

David Young in Port Louis, Mauritius

HONEYMOONER Michaela McAreavey was strangled during a violent struggle in her hotel room that lasted around two minutes, a court in Mauritius has heard.

A doctor who examined the Co Tyrone teacher following her death also told the trial of the men accused of her murder that DNA traces might have been washed off her body when she was dumped into running water.

The daughter of Tyrone GAA football manager Mickey Harte was found in the bathtub of her deluxe room in the luxury Legends Hotel on the island in January last year.

Former hotel employees Avinash Treebhoowoon, 31, and Sandip Moneea, 42, deny her murder.

Dr Sunil Kumar Gungadin said the 27-year-old newlywed was strangled manually by hand and forearm and ruled out the use of a ligature.

The 18th day of the high profile case in the Supreme Court in Port Louis was also told that CCTV images from the hotel were set to be played to the jury.

A defence lawyer asked a senior police officer to bring to court tomorrow footage that covers a 35-minute period on the day of the crime and an hour from the day before. No other details of the images were outlined to the nine jurors today.

Dr Gungadin, chief medical officer for the police, performed an autopsy on Mrs McAreavey about six hours after she was found dead.

Her widower John, brother Mark Harte, father-in-law Brendan and sister-in-law Claire had been in court but at the prompting of their legal representative left just before the doctor took the stand to deliver his at times graphic findings.

He told the jury the time of death was in a half hour window between 2.30pm and 3pm on January 10 2011.

The prosecution claims the defendants murdered Mrs McAreavey at around 2.45pm when she walked in and disturbed them stealing.

The doctor said the cause of death was "asphyxia due to compression of neck".

"It was a violent asphyxia death where asphyxia was caused by manual strangulation and the pattern of injuries over the neck are compatible with pressure being applied by grip of a hand as well as use of the forearm," he said.

The teacher sustained a number of injuries to her neck, including scrape marks which Dr Gungadin said may have been caused by herself as she tried to break free.

"In this case, the fact it was a violent struggle and pressure was being applied over the neck, anybody would have the natural reflex to push away to alleviate pressure over the neck," he explained.

One of the bones in her neck was also broken.

Chief prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan asked what sort of force was needed to cause such a fracture.

"A considerable amount of force would have needed to be applied," the doctor replied.

No significant DNA traces were found on swabs taken from Mrs McAreavey's neck.

Mr Manrakhan asked the doctor did that result surprise him.

"In my opinion, the body had come out of water and chances of losing genetic material is very high," he responded.

"So it's not surprising."

Mr Manrakhan also asked could a ligature, specifically a belt, have been the murder weapon.

"This is not a case of ligature strangulation," he said.

"No ligature mark was present over the neck."

He said a number of bruises on the honeymooner's head may have been caused by a blunt object or coming into contact with a hard surface.

Judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah asked the witness, on behalf of the court, how long pressure was applied to the victim's neck to cause the injuries noted.

"That amount of injuries over the neck, the person would have died within two to three minutes," he replied.

The judge said he specifically wanted to know how long pressure was concentrated on the neck.

"One to two minutes of pressure my lord," answered the doctor.

The foreman of the jury then asked the medical officer to provide a time of death.

Dr Gungadin said the death was officially registered at 4pm on the day of the murder, but that Mrs McAreavey actually died earlier.

"The person could have died between 2.30pm and 3pm on January 10 2011," he said.

While testifying, the police medic was also asked about tests he had done on the accused and other suspects in the case.

Treebhoowoon initially signed a statement of confession in which he admitted being involved in the murder but has since insisted it was beaten out him.

The doctor examined the defendant the day after the 72 hour period he alleges the abuse took place.

He was asked by Mr Manrakhan, on the request of the judge, whether he found any injuries.

"There were no injuries on the body of Avinash Treebhoowoon," he said.

The doctor also said the accused did not make any allegations of brutality when he saw him.

But Treebhoowoon's lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry then asked if senior police officer Inspector Ranjitsingh Jokhoo was present when the examination was taking place.

The doctor confirmed he was.

Rama Valayden, representing Moneea, asked if John McAreavey was examined.

The doctor said he was not, noting that the widower was not then a suspect.

Mr McAreavey was detained in handcuffs in the hours after the murder but police have told the trial he was quickly eliminated from their enquiries.

The doctor was asked whether Legends employees Raj Theekoy and Dassen Naraynen, who were both arrested, were examined by him.

Dr Gungadin said Mr Theekoy was, with no injuries visible, but Naraynen was not.

Mr Theekoy was originally charged with conspiracy to commit murder but the case was later dropped against him and during the trial he gave evidence for the prosecution claiming he saw Moneea and Treebhoowoon exit from the direction of the crime scene shortly after hearing a woman cry out in pain.

Naraynen is facing a provisional charge of conspiracy to commit larceny in connection with the case.

The trial adjourned early for the afternoon as preparations were made to have screens erected to play CCTV footage from Legends.

Giving evidence at the trial, Assistant Commissioner of Police Yoosoof Soopun was asked by Mr Valayden to bring the material to the court tomorrow.

Judge Fecknah told Mr Soopun to return to court with the footage in the morning, when it would be broadcast.

"We will make arrangements for projectors and screens to be brought in," said the judge.

Mr Valayden asked for footage from 2.55pm to 3.30pm on the day of the murder - January 10 - and 11am to 12pm the previous day.

No other details about the CCTV images were heard in court.

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