Acquitted men tell of relief and joy outside courtroom
A JURY has acquitted two hotel workers who were accused of murdering Irish woman Michaela McAreavey in Mauritius last year.
Friends and relatives of Sandip Moneea and Avinash Treebhoowoon cheered in court when the jury delivered two unanimous not guilty verdicts.
The six men and three women of the jury took two hours to reach their decision, having earlier listened to a four-hour address from trial judge Prithviraj Fecknah, who directed them on law and relevant issues to consider during their deliberations.
Ms McAreavey was strangled at Legends hotel while on honeymoon with her husband John in January last year.
The prosecution had claimed that Mr Moneea and Mr Treebhoowoon murdered the 27-year-old teacher from Co Tyrone after she returned to her hotel room to collect biscuits and found them stealing.
Mr Treebhoowoon (32) threw his hands in the air as the verdict was read out, while Mr Moneea (43) broke down when the foreman of the jury confirmed he had also been acquitted.
Mr Treebhoowoon worked as a room attendant at Legends, while Mr Moneea was his floor supervisor. They were arrested at the hotel the day after the murder, and spent 18 months in jail.
Addressing the defendants in Mauritian Creole, Judge Prithviraj Fecknah said: “You were tried by the jury, you were found to be not guilty for the offence of murder. You are free.”
Ms McAreavey’s widower John, his father Brendan, sister Claire and brother-in-law Mark Harte left the court shortly after the verdict was delivered.
They were accompanied by an Irish diplomat and two Police Service of Northern Ireland officers.
A brief statement issued on behalf of the McAreavey and Harte families said there were “no words which can describe the sense of devastation and desolation” they felt after the verdict.
As celebrations got under way outside the court, Mr Treebhoowoon embraced his wife Reshma. “My wife and I are very happy,” he said. “I am so sad about the lady, but I did not do this. I did not kill this lady. I am sure, by god.”
“I feel great,” said Mr Moneea, minutes after he had been formally released. “Justice has won.”
Defence lawyers Rama Valayden and Sanjeev Teeluckdharry had insisted a confession statement signed by Mr Treebhoowoon three days after the crime was a fabrication that had been extracted by police brutality.
The room cleaner claimed he had been beaten repeatedly, whipped on the soles of his feet and had his head plunged into water so many times he vomited blood.
Mr Valayden compared the case to past miscarriages of justice involving Irish people.
“This is what happens when we rush to find justice, like it was in the Birmingham Six, like it was in the Guilford Four,” he said.
“Wherever in the world, when we rush to try to find justice, we always fail.”
He claimed the Mauritian police’s major crime investigation team (MCIT) had ignored vital evidence that would have identified the real killer in their haste to find someone to blame quickly.
The lawyer demanded the MCIT be disbanded and a new unit take on a fresh investigation.
“My message to the McAreavey family is don’t despair. . . I can promise to you and to the Irish nation, that I, Rama Valayden, with my friend Sanjeev [Teeluckdharry], we will continue our efforts to find the real guilty persons.”
As he had done during the trial, he highlighted that four fingerprints belonging to neither the two accused or the McAreaveys were found in the room where Ms McAreavey was strangled.
He also noted that unknown DNA traces had been recovered on her body.
“All our friends in Ireland, let me tell them again, we promise them we will not leave any stone unturned in order to reopen the inquiry, have the MCIT disbanded and get a new team to inquire so that the truth can prevail.”
In his final remarks to the court, chief prosecuting counsel Mehdi Manrakhan said he had conducted the trial to the best of his ability.
“The decision of the jury is final and I have to accept that decision in this case,” he said.