Sunday 19 January 2020

No new deal yet for shorter sentence for Michaella McCollum

Michaella McCollum Connolly, left, with Melissa Reid, centre, on their way to court in Lima last week
Michaella McCollum Connolly, left, with Melissa Reid, centre, on their way to court in Lima last week
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly with Melissa Reid, above, after their arrest
LAID-BACK COUPLE: Brad and Michaella chilling out in Ibiza during the summer
Melissa Reid. Photo: Reuters
Melissa Reid (L) and Michaella McCollum Connolly walk cuffed as they arrive to court at Sarita Colonia prison in Callao, October 1, 2013.
DISMAY: Michaella McCollum Connolly arrives at court
Melissa Reid (L), cuffed, is escorted from a truck to court at Sarita Colonia prison in Callao, October 1, 2013.

DRUG mules Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum have yet to make a fresh bid to strike a deal with prosecutors and secure a shorter prison sentence, it emerged today.

The women were hauled back to court on Tuesday after being told their guilty pleas were not good enough.

They expanded on statements they made a week earlier in the hope of avoiding trial on drugs trafficking charges and receiving jail sentences of just over six and a half years.

But state prosecutors said last night they had to receive any official request from the women's defence team for an early termination of the case against them.

Under Peruvian law drug mules who benefit from an early termination process automatically receive a sentence of six years and eight months - a sixth off the minimum eight year sentence for drug trafficking.

Juan Mendoza Abarca, head of the anti-drugs unit prosecuting the women, said: "We have received no request yet from Melissa and Michaella's lawyers requesting an early termination.

"It's their responsibility to request it, not our job to propose it.

"We're continuing our investigation with a view to going to trial against these women in the meantime."

Court officials and public prosecutors said the fact Tuesday's hearing was private prevented them from going into detail about what was said in court.

But Dr Mendoza said the state prosecution probe would last around six months if the case ended up going to trial.

Peru's Prison Service denied reports Melissa, from Lenzie near Edinburgh, and Michaella, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, had been transferred to a different jail or that there were any plans to move them.

It was reported on Wednesday the women, arrested on August 6 as they tried to leave Peru with more than 11 kilos of cocaine in their suitcases, had been moved from Virgen de Fatima prison in Lima to an unnamed "modern well-equipped" prison.

Irish priest Maurice Foley described how he found them during a visit sitting under a parasol in a yard in the jail, drinking coffee and making telephone calls.

The Prison Service spokesman said: "The women continue to be held in Virgen de Fatima prison."

Prosecutors have adopted a carrot and stick approach towards Melissa and Michaella, both 20, since their arrests at Lima's Jorge Chavez airport as they tried to board an Air Europa flight to Spain.

The women ended up confessing to try to smuggle the drugs out of the country after weeks of pleading their innocence.

But their guilty pleas - and attempts to seek 'early termination' - were rejected when they continued to insist they were coerced into becoming drugs mules after being kidnapped by Colombian mafia in Ibiza where they had been working over the summer.

Dr Mendoza has hinted the women could be free by Christmas if they help track down the Mr Bigs behind the criminal gang and testify against them.

Tuesday's hearing took place in private at a makeshift courtroom inside a men's prison called Sarita Colonia.

A spokesman for Callao Criminal Court number four which is investigating the women, said: "Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid amplified their statements.

"The hearing in front of judge Pedro Miguel Puente Bardales took place because on September 25 state prosecutors asked in writing that before the early termination hearing which had originally been scheduled for October 1, the defendants expand on their court statements.

"The court arranged for that to happen.

"At a previous court hearing both women had accepted their guilt for the crimes they were accused of, showing their repentance and asking at the same time to be accepted within the early termination process."


By Gerard Couzens

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