Thursday 23 November 2017

Murder accused was tortured into confessing by police force in a hurry to solve case: jury

AVINASH Treebhoowoon was tortured into confessing to a murder he did not commit by a police force in a hurry to find someone to blame.

The jury's not guilty verdict showed they believed the room cleaner's insistence that a detailed admission statement produced three days after Michaela McAreavey's death, which bore his signature, was a mere fabrication.

Relief at being spared a potential 60-year jail term will be tempered with anger that he has been incarcerated for the last 18 months on what jurors evidently concluded was a tissue of lies invented by detectives.

The 32-year-old will now attempt to restart his life, still on medication for the recurring nightmares he claims he has about the officers who beat him into signing.

Treebhoowoon had been working at Legends hotel for almost five years when Mrs McAreavey was murdered last January.

As a room attendant he was paid 7800 Mauritian rupees a month - about 200 euro.

It was during that time he met his wife Reshma, who used to be a sales assistant.

The couple married in 2009. She soon became pregnant but would lose the child.

She was present at court throughout the trial, the orange streak through her hair a symbol of love for her husband.

A potential defence witness, for six weeks she maintained a quiet vigil on a bench outside court room five, unable to attend proceedings.

But each morning she would scurry over to the dock to spend a few moments with him before court began.

When her husband's lawyers decided not to call her to give evidence, she was finally able to sit and listen to the trial's concluding phases.

Treebhoowoon grew up in a small village in the north of the island and left school early and without qualifications.

Prior to Legends he worked in another hotel - the Meridien - and also had spells of employment as a lorry driver and in one of the country's many textile factories.

During his time in the Meridien he was suspended for two weeks after an Italian couple claimed 500 euro was stolen from their room.

Treebhoowoon insisted he was cleared by a disciplinary committee, which blamed one of his co-workers, and he went on to work at the hotel for another two years.

In that period he says he was offered but turned down a promotion opportunity.

"I was not yet ready for the responsibility," he told his trial.

At the time of the murder he was one of five room attendants working under the supervision of his co-accused Sandip Moneea.

His day began at 7.15am and he would work to 4pm, cleaning nine or 10 rooms in that period.

One of those he worked with was Raj Theekoy, a man he considered a friend but one who would go on to implicate him in the murder as the prosecution's star witness.

Fellow attendant Govinden Samynaden said the two were always laughing together.

"Avinash and Raj were always joking," he said.

Having left school early, Treebhoowoon claims he does not have great command of the English language. An interpreter had to explain proceedings throughout the trial.

Up until two weeks before the murder, he and his wife had lived at his parents' house in Amaury, a rural village in the centre north of the island close to Riviere du Rempart.

There he spoke a language of Indian origin, Bhojpuri.

His father Sooriedeo is a 52-year-old labourer who cannot read or write.

Treebhoowoon claimed he had a fight with him on December 22, 2010 over his failure to buy gas for the house. The row prompted him to leave.

He stayed for a short period with his wife's mother but then moved into rented accommodation in Plaine de Roches.

It was an episode that prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan found hard to explain, asking where Treebhoowoon got the money to pay for the new pad.

"Let us not forget that this is a man who would fight with his father over buying a gas cylinder and yet find the money to go rent a house for him and his wife to live in?" he said.

The incident that saw him move out of the family home assumed great significance in the trial. After he signed the confession statement, Treebhoowoon met briefly with his father in a police station.

An officer who witnessed the incident claimed the suspect said: "Forget about your son now, I have made a mistake."

But in the witness box both Treebhoowoon and his father insisted he was talking about the family fall out and not the murder, instead saying: "Don't forget about your son," before he asked to move home.

In the event he could neither go to Amaury nor settle into his rented apartment.

From the day after the murder his new home was to be the four walls of a prison cell.

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