Judge loses cool after audacious escape right under his nose
A ringing phone put a halt to proceedings on a day when the pace of questioning picked up
JUDGE PRITHVIRAJ Fecknah comes across as a man of equable temperament, but yesterday’s turn of events left him furious.
“I have had enough of this,” he growled, raising his voice. “We cannot work in these conditions.”
The problem wasn’t the routine overcrowding, the numbingly repetitive cross-examinations or the stuffy air. It wasn’t an unco-operative witness or the latest linguistic contortions from defence lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry. (“The doorbell walked into the room,” the lawyer told the court the other day, before correcting himself. “I mean bellboy.”)
No, the source of the judge’s irritation was a mobile phone that went off and interfered momentarily with the speaker system. Proceedings were halted and the police were ordered to track down the offending device. Its owner would be in contempt of court. A few officers milled about sheepishly, not quite sure how to go about a search of 150 people pressed into such a tight space.
Then the door opened and closed. “Somebody has left the room in front of us!” said the judge. “How did he leave the room?” Officers were ordered to put the room in lockdown and give chase, but somehow their efforts were in vain and they returned empty-handed.
“You are the police officer in charge,” the judge said angrily to a senior officer. “You do the needful and bring that man back to me.” But it was too late. The suspect had pulled off an audacious escape right under the noses of Port Louis’s finest.
Watching all of this on his first day in the public gallery was John McAreavey. He had not been allowed attend court before giving evidence, but as of yesterday he was free to join his sister Claire, father Brendan and brother-in-law Mark Harte in the courtroom.
John may return to the witness box if the prosecution goes ahead with a motion to allow him correct a mistake he made in evidence on Wednesday – Michaela McAreavey’s widower says he got a date wrong – but in the meantime the state’s legal team kept working its way through the long witness list.
One of the names on the list was Govinden Samynaden, a room cleaner who was in and around the deluxe block at Legends Hotel on the day Michaela was killed. He seemed nervous and awkwardly shy. He never looked at the lawyers questioning him, staring instead at the judge as he delivered his slow, halting answers.
At one point he began to cry as he claimed police put pressure on him to sign a statement in the days after the killing. “I didn’t have any means. I’m an orphan. I couldn’t pay for a lawyer. They swore at me,” he said.
On another occasion, when the cleaner gave times that appeared contradictory, prosecution lawyer Mehdi Manrakhan asked: “Are you scared? Are you hesitating to tell the truth?” “No, I’m not hesitating,” came the reply.
In his evidence, Samynaden said one of the accused men, his colleague Sandip Moneea, was in his presence until 2.55pm on January 10th – very close, in other words, to the time when police believe Michaela was killed.
Picking up on that, Manrakhan intervened to point out that room keycard readings showed Moneea entering a room at a different location at 2.28pm.
“How could Sandip be with you when he was at room 1020 at 2.28pm? “I don’t remember,” the witness replied.
“If you’re telling the truth, Mr Moneea couldn’t have opened the door at room 1020 at 2.28pm.”
“I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
Samynaden’s ordeal didn’t last too long – the pace of the trial has picked up in the past few days, and witnesses are now being dealt with quite quickly. So much so that by early afternoon the prosecution had run out of witnesses on standby. So the judge called it a day, the crowd filed out and 150 phones lit up in unison.