Tuesday 20 March 2018

Michaela trial: Don’t convict innocent men says lawyer who is Sinn Fein supporter

Avinash Treebhoowoon accompanied by officers arrives at the Supreme Court in Port Louis. Photo: PA
Avinash Treebhoowoon accompanied by officers arrives at the Supreme Court in Port Louis. Photo: PA

David Young in Port Louis, Mauritius

THE FAMILY of honeymooner Michaela McAreavey and the people of Ireland would not want innocent men convicted of her murder, defence lawyers have told jurors.

Barristers for the two Mauritius hotel workers accused of the crime also called for a new police investigation into the Co Tyrone teacher's death at the island's Legends hotel, insisting the real culprit was still at large.

Counsel for Sandip Moneea and Avinash Treebhoowoon urged the jury to find their clients not guilty as they delivered separate closing addresses to their trial at the Supreme Court in Port Louis.

At the close, proceedings were adjourned to Thursday, when the jury is expected to retire to consider its verdict after receiving judicial directions.

Former Mauritian attorney general Rama Valayden, representing Moneea, said convicting the men would inflict a wound on Mrs McAreavey's soul.

"Don't cause another injury to Michaela wherever she is," he said.

The lawyer, in an address lasting almost three-and-a-half hours, said a fresh police probe would allow her family finally to get the truth.

"Come back and send the right signal to our nation," he told the nine jury members.

"Send the right signal to our Irish brothers and sisters - in Mauritius we love you and we want justice to be done and for justice to be done we want a new inquiry."

Treebhoowoon, 32, from Plaine de Roches, and Moneea, 43, from Petit Raffray, deny murdering the daughter of Tyrone gaelic football boss Mickey Harte in her deluxe room in Legends.

Both defendants worked at the exclusive beachside resort at the time she was found strangled last January.

As the two accused watched on from the dock, Mr Valayden said he had great respect for Ireland.

"The Irish nation is a great nation," he said.

"I love that nation for their struggle against British colonialism. All those who know me always know I have been a supporter of Sinn Fein."

Lambasting the original police investigation, he asked jurors if justice had really been rendered to Mrs McAreavey.

"Do you think one person in Ireland, with its history of miscarriages of justice, would say - any person you get, it's okay?

"Do you think there's one person in Ireland will say - it doesn't matter who you get, we want a head."

Treebhoowoon's counsel Sanjeev Teeluckdharry, who was the first to present his closing submissions, also called for a new investigation.

"Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen there's no pride in tacking the skins of innocents on the wall," he said, accusing the police of embarking on a rushed "wild hunt" to find scapegoats.

"It's my humble opinion that this whole inquiry needs to be reopened," he said.

The lawyer added: "So we can know the truth.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the image of our country internationally cannot be mended by condemning two innocent men to hell for 60 years whilst the real culprit is still at large."

The prosecution claims the defendants attacked the 27-year-old newlywed when she interrupted them stealing in her room.

Treebhoowoon signed a confession statement three days after Mrs McAreavey died but has since insisted the admission was extracted by police brutality.

The teacher's widower John McAreavey and other family members were not present in court as the defence delivered their closing remarks on what was the 32nd day of proceedings.

In its closing address last week, the prosecution criticised defence lawyers for raising "grotesque" and unfounded theories during the trial which pointed fingers of blame at Mr McAreavey.

Both lawyers broached the issue today, though they took different approaches.

Mr Teeluckdharry was critical of the evidence the widower gave in the witness box, claiming he was "evasive" under cross examination and his evidence contained a number of "disturbing" features.

During his evidence Mr McAreavey said while he was attending to his wife after lifting her body from a bath of running water he had run back to turn the tap off.

Mr Teeluckdharry questioned his actions.

"The person who is most important to him in the world is lying there inanimate and he's attracted by the sound of gushing water in the bath tub?" he said.

Mr McAreavey told the court he went to look for his wife when she did not return to him at a poolside restaurant having left to fetch biscuits from their room.

The lawyer said no explanation had been offered by the Co Down accountant why he had not tried to phone her.

He asked why police had not made inquiries about certain possessions found in the McAreaveys' room, including a laptop, phones and a sex guide.

Later the lawyer made complimentary remarks about Mrs McAreavey's relations and insisted he was not there to hurt or prosecute anyone.

"I have a lot of respect for the Harte and McAreavey families. I admire the way they dealt with the horrible misfortune that has befallen on them," he said.

"I admire the pride and courage of the Irish nation - a nation built up by the work of courageous men and women.

"It has not been my intention to hurt anyone, I am not here to prosecute anyone.

"But it is my duty to explore all areas that will lead to the truth because I know more than anyone else that the two people sitting in the dock are innocent."

In referring to Mr McAreavey at one point in his address, Mr Valayden said he had no reason not to believe him.

He claimed the police's basic failure to carry out simple lines of inquiry to eliminate him as a suspect had resulted in the finger pointing.

"At end of the day it (police action) would have excluded him completely from the list of persons who could have committed that act," he said.

Mr Teeluckdharry later made another reference to the Irish people.

"I have a lot of respect for the Irish nation which has had its dark era, having to deal with burning issues of police brutality, extremism and serious miscarriages of justice," he said.

"I'm extremely sorry that late Michaela Harte lost her life on our island but I'm even more sorry that the prosecution has not been able to bring the real culprit before you."

In their lengthy submissions, both lawyers sifted through the evidence the prosecution relied on.

They were scathing of the state's view that DNA tests which showed no link to the suspects and the crime scene or the body of Mrs McAreavey did not mean they were innocent.

Mr Teeluckdharry said: "Ladies and gentlemen, absence of DNA is not only evidence the two accused are innocent of the charge that the prosecution are accusing them of, but also that the real murderer is still at large."

Mr Valayden said the stance was incredible.

"This is no longer in the domain of fact, no longer in domain of fiction, we are in the domain of fantasy," he said.

The prosecution has insisted Treebhoowoon's allegations of police brutality are made up, highlighting that no external injuries were identified by three medics who examined him.

Mr Teeluckdharry, in a speech running in excess of two and a half hours, said it was well known police used techniques that did not leave marks.

"It would be very naive of one to believe that police would torture in such a way as to leave traces and injuries," he said.

The lawyer then asked jurors how they would have reacted when faced with the choice of signing a confession or facing further torture.

"You are at the mercy of police - what would you have done?" he said.

Former Legends employee Raj Theekoy implicated both accused when he testified for the state by claiming he saw them exit from the room where the teacher died - 1025 - shortly after hearing a woman cry out in pain.

Mr Theekoy was originally charged with conspiracy to commit murder but criminal proceedings against him were dropped and he was given immunity to testify in court.

Both defence lawyers attacked his credibility and branded him a serial liar.

"This is not a truthful person," said Mr Teeluckdharry.

Mr Valayden added: "If truth sees him coming, truth will run away from him and let him walk alone in the alleyway."

He described the witness's testimony as "lies, lies, lies".

While no DNA traces of the accused were found in the room, a potential match to another former staff member, Dassen Naraynen, was discovered in the bathroom.

Naraynen has been charged with conspiracy to commit larceny at the hotel - something he denies - having previously had a charge of conspiracy to murder dropped.

The defence lawyers both claimed his potential involvement had not been fully investigated by the police.

Time and again the barristers focused on perceived failings by the police - particularly officers of the major crime investigation team (MCIT).

"The alleged confession of accused number one (Treebhoowoon) was fabricated by over-zealous MCIT officers piece by piece and line by line," claimed Mr Teeluckdharry.

Mr Valayden was equally scathing: "The MCIT could put any person in that box (the dock) and say you have killed president John Kennedy."

The barrister said the police's repeated claim of being "satisfied" - in the face of evidence that he said cast doubt on the guilt of the accused - risked Mauritius's standing in the eyes of the world.

"They (the police) are playing with the reputation of our country," he said.

"Playing with the tourist industry and jobs of thousands of people and they are 'satisfied' that things have been done?"

During his case, Mr Valayden presented phone records to the jury that showed a four-minute call from a mobile registered to Moneea at 2.45pm on the day of the murder - around the time the prosecution claim Mrs McAreavey was strangled in a violent struggle.

The state has not disputed that the accused made the call, but have said he did it inside 1025 in a bid to ask advice from his sister having committed the murder.

The defence lawyer branded that theory laughable.

"You are standing inside a place where you just committed a murder and you stay there and call?" he asked rhetorically.

Concluding his address to the jury, Mr Teeluckdharry relied heavily on a religious metaphor.

"It's been a long, exhaustive and taxing trial, ladies and gentlemen," he said.

"Law is a discipline - you are today on the 49th day of your legal pilgrimage, you have today been able to transcend the prejudices.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you have today reached the wuthering heights, you have today reached the mountain top.

"The call of destiny has wanted you to reach the mountain top. From there the call of time is whispering in your ear.

"From the mountain top you can see, ladies and gentlemen, ahead of you, you can see the promised land.

"The promised land where lives democracy and respect for freedom and rights. The promised land where inquiries are conducted out in a scientific manner with the help of science; innocents are not being tortured to extract confessions; innocents are not being sent to trial and jail."

He said the verdict would have serious repercussions on whether society in Mauritius went forward or backward.

"You will have to deliver a verdict, you will have to bring this Mauritian society to the promised land," he said.

Mr Valayden employed meteorological imagery.

He said the police were creating a hole in Mauritian society like the one in the ozone layer.

"It's better that 10 guilty persons get away than one or two innocent persons go to prison, innocent persons who don't have resources to fight," he added.

"If you don't wake up and see the police are failing, one day you will wake up with a hole in your own head.

"A hole in your conscience."

Telling the jurors he wanted to look them in the eye one last time, he implored: "Please do your jobs, please find them not guilty."

Press Association

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