Accused challenged over 'beating'
A hotel worker who alleges he was beaten into confessing to the murder of honeymooner Michaela McAreavey has been challenged to explain why two doctors apparently found no sign of any injuries on him.
Avinash Treebhoowoon was accused of making up the claims of police brutality, even taking inspiration for his story from the movies, as he was cross examined by the prosecution in court in Mauritius.
The defendant and co-accused Sandip Moneea both deny murdering the 27-year-old daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte at the island’s luxury Legends Hotel last January.
Both men worked at the exclusive beachside resort at the time and the prosecution claims they attacked the Irish language teacher when she caught them stealing in her room.
Mr Treebhoowoon (32) returned to the witness box to give evidence for a third straight day at the high profile case in Port Louis; his second facing cross examination from principal state counsel Mehdi Manrakhan.
Mrs McAreavey’s widower John, his father Brendan, sister Claire and brother-in-law Mark Harte watched as he testified in his native French Creole.
The family members were helped by a local Mauritian who translated proceedings.
The defendant claims police forced him to sign a confession statement three days after the January 10th murder and that he had no knowledge of what it contained.
The prosecutor disputed this, insisting the document included correct facts the police could not have otherwise known and was littered with particular phrases favoured by Mr Treebhoowoon.
The lawyer said the violent struggle with Mrs McAreavey outlined in the statement was consistent with the pattern of injuries sustained by the newlywed - yet he claimed police were not in possession of the post mortem report at that juncture.
Before analysing the statement in detail, Mr Manrakhan focused on the defendant’s claims of police torture.
Mr Treebhoowoon has told the court he was subjected to various types of violence in the days after the murder.
He alleged he was beaten around the head, punched in the stomach, grabbed in the crotch, whipped on the soles of his feet and dunked in a bucket of water until he vomited blood.
Amid the claimed brutality, he made an official complaint to a magistrate at a court appearance and was duly sent to a hospital for examination.
Mr Manrakhan asked how could he explain that there were “no external injuries” found.
“When I was examined I didn’t take off my shirt,” replied the defendant.
The lawyer was sceptical.
“You were taken to the doctor and you didn’t take off your shirt?”
Mr Treebhoowoon explained: “The doctor didn’t talk to me.”
Mr Manrakhan offered an alternative explanation.
“That means you never got beaten, there are no injuries, you agree with that? You would have got some marks on your body?”
The accused responded firmly: “I got beaten”
Judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah, counting up the separate claims of abuse, also asked the defendant to account for the apparent anomaly.
“I am telling you, as per what you said, you got 13 slaps in all,” he said.
“You want me to believe that after 13 slaps your face was still normal?
“Amongst these slaps you got a big slap to the ear which hurt your ear. These slaps were given by big men - they didn’t caress you, they slapped you.”
At this point the judge showed his own hand to Mr Treebhoowoon standing in the witness box before him.
“Just like mine, a big hand like mine,” he said.
Mr Manrakhan said two days later the accused was examined again, this time by a police doctor.
“He didn’t see any injuries on your body or your heels.” he said.
“I tell you why he couldn’t see anything, because you never got beaten.”
But Mr Treebhoowoon maintained that he had been repeatedly assaulted.
Mr Manrakhan challenged him: “I tell you you never got beaten, you lied.”
“No I got beaten,” insisted the defendant.
The prosecutor also questioned him about his claim that senior police officer Yoosoof Soopun threatened to kill him during interrogation, showing him a revolver he had in his sock.
Mr Manrakhan said assistant commissioner Soopun had already produced records in court to show he had not been officially issued with a firearm on the day.
“Did you see it in a film?” asked the lawyer.
The defendant rejected the suggestion.
Mr Treebhoowoon had already told the court he was in room 1025, where Mrs McAreavey where was found dead, to clean it on the day of the crime but insisted he left at 2.35pm – ten minutes before the prosecution claim she was strangled.
The prosecutor questioned the defendant at length about his version of events and how he went about cleaning the room.
He queried his insistence that he had not seen a wallet on the table, noting that it was spotted by many people who attended the scene of crime.
“Everyone else saw the wallet,” he said.
“No I didn’t see it,” replied the accused.
The lawyer later turned to the crucial January 13th alleged confession statement.
He read the whole document to court, pausing after certain sections to ask Mr Treebhoowoon to assert whether it was correct or not.
The first part of the document claims to recount the defendant’s movements on the day up until the crime.
As Mr Manrakhan read each detail, Mr Treebhoowoon agreed they were true. He pointed out that he had told police many of these uncontroversial facts while giving two previous statements.
The barrister then listed a number of Creole phrases he claimed were regularly used by Mr Treebhoowoon, they included terms for splitting up or breaking and one to describe mental tiredness.
He said these were all used in the January 13th statement, insisting it was proof that the defendant had offered the details therein.
“That means it’s true what I am saying,” said Mr Manrakhan.
In regard to one of the phrases, the lawyer said: “It’s your expression, not mine - the police can’t invent it?”
Mr Treebhoowoon said he had used the term before when talking to police but they had not written them in earlier statements.
After agreeing with the contents of the first half of the statement, Mr Treebhoowoon’s answers changed when the topic of the murder was reached.
He again insisted he had not spotted the purse or plotted with Mr Moneea to steal some notes.
“No it’s lies,” he said.
Mr Manrakhan then read from the statement that Mrs McAreavey had entered the room and a struggle ensued.
He said it said that Mr Treebhoowoon had pushed her to the ground and then Mr Moneea grabbed her neck with his hand and choked her until she fell unconscious.
The lawyer said the injuries were consistent with those found during autopsy but stressed that the medical report was not with police at the time the statement was taken.
“It’s compatible (the pattern of injuries) with the version of your statement,” claimed Mr Manrakhan.
Mr Treebhoowoon insisted that part was lies - he said the same of the apparent words of regret and plea for forgiveness at the end of the statement.
“I didn’t say anything like that,” he said.
But the prosecutor put it to him that he had given the statement voluntarily.
“Whatever you said in the statement is true, what do you say to that?”
“It’s not true,” he replied.
The lawyer went on: “We all saw that you are a big liar, you and Sandip Moneea killed that lady.”
“No, lies.” answered Mr Treebhoowoon.
Earlier, Mr Manrakhan challenged the accused’s claims that his then lawyer Ravi Rutnah was browbeaten and ordered to be silent while he was forced to sign the confession statement inside a police office.
Mr Rutnah withdrew from the trial in the second week - claiming he would “be back” in Arnold “Schwarzenegger style” - after alleging that a police witness had attacked his professional integrity while testifying.
Mr Manrakhan said it was hard to believe police would have intimidated Mr Rutnah at the time of the statement, or that he would have taken it.
“He became like a good child and just sat there?” he asked.
Mr Treebhoowoon insisted his lawyer “did not say anything” and just sat down.
The judge again stepped in.
“We have seen Mr Rutnah in court, you remember he said to everyone he’ll return in Schwarzenegger style, does he seem to be a quiet person?”
“No,” the accused replied, adding: “He sat down quietly.”
Mr Rutnah wrote to Mauritius’s official police complaints body in the wake of the incident.
The state counsel repeatedly pressed the defendant why he had not made further statements of complaint in the 18 months since January 2011.
He noted that an officer from a police complaints body had visited him in jail to ask him about the claims made by Mr Rutnah.
The lawyer asked why had he not taken the chance to outline his own allegations.
“This was your golden opportunity to tell him and you did not,” he said.
Mr Treebhoowoon responded: “I wanted to give it (a statement) in the presence of my lawyer.”
Mr Manrakhan then listed a series of other potential opportunities he said the defendant had to ensure a statement was taken.
He estimated that he had received 72 visits from his family in the last 18 months, that he had met his lawyers on numerous occasions and that he had appeared in court a number of times.
“We are hearing this beating story one and a half years later?” the barrister queried.
The judge also asked him why he did not outline all the claims to his lawyers in the days after the murder.
“When a house is on fire you open the door to get out?” he said.
Mr Treebhoowoon insisted he was scared of further punishment at the hands of police if he spoke out.
At one point during these exchanges the judge warned him about avoiding questions and later told him not to be insolent to the cross-examining lawyer.
“It’s obvious what he’s doing,” said Justice Fecknah. “He’s escaping questions.
“This question has been asked to him four or five times and the witness is constantly escaping them.”
Another former Legends employee Raj Theekoy has appeared as a prosecution witness in the case to implicate Mr Treebhoowoon and Mr Moneea, claiming he saw them exit from the direction of room 1025 shortly after hearing a woman cry out in pain.
When asked by Mr Manrakhan about his personal relationship with Mr Theekoy prior to the day of the murder, the accused acknowledged he had experienced no problems with him.
“Do you agree he hasn’t got any motive or reason to lie on you?” the lawyer then asked.
“I don’t know how but I haven’t got any problem with him,” he replied.
Mr Manrakhan then repeated Mr Theekoy’s version of events.
“He’s lying,” said Mr Treebhoowoon.
“He doesn’t have a reason to lie,” said the barrister.
“I don’t know about this but he’s lying,” the defendant insisted.
Mr Theekoy was originally charged with conspiracy to commit murder but the case was later dropped and he was subsequently granted immunity ahead of testifying for the state.
Court adjourned for a period after judge Fecknah accused Mr Manrakhan of being “insolent” in response to a defence request for an early end to the day’s proceedings.
Before resuming his cross examination this morning, the prosecutor made a formal apology to the judge and jury.
“It was not a deliberate act and I sincerely did not intend to show any disrespect to either your lordship or the jury,” he said.
Justice Fecknah thanked the lawyer for saying sorry and acknowledged that the six week trial had been “taxing” on everybody.
“I understand that at some point in time something goes a miss,” he said.
He added: “We can deal with the rest of the case knowing this has been dealt with, set aside and forgotten.”
The trial will resume in the morning when Mr Treebhoowoon’s lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry will re-examine his client on issues raised during the course of cross examination.