Lawyers for accused men search for holes in evidence of only eyewitness to implicate them

Tue, Jun 5, 2012, 01:00

The arrival of the key witness in the Mauritian murder trial sparked a flurry of media activity

THERE WAS gravity in the expression, but the sloping shoulders and relaxed bearing made him look like a passerby who just happened to amble into courtroom number five.

Dressed in a tight-fitting cream shirt and pin-striped trousers, he stood alone at the back of the room as the regulars elbowed past for a seat.

Had his face not already been splashed across every Mauritian paper, had his arrival not set off such a flurry among the cameramen, the man wouldn’t have got a second glance. He scanned the room.

The room scanned him. Raj Theekoy: star witness.

The 35-year-old has spent all his life in northern Mauritius, where he was born and now lives with his wife and son. When his education came to an end after primary school, the jury heard, he first became a barber before taking up work in a textile factory in the town of Pamplemousses.

His first room attendant’s job was at the Marina Hotel, but when security officers one day found a small bottle of wine in his bag – it was his bottle, Theekoy maintained, but he couldn’t prove it – he decided to resign.

He left with a letter of recommendation in his pocket, and with it he applied for a job at Legends Hotel in Grand Gaube. That was in August 2010 – five months before Michaela McAreavey was killed.

For Theekoy, January 10th last year was much like any other Monday morning.

Addressing the court in Mauritian Creole yesterday, he said he arrived at Legends that day at around 7am, had breakfast, collected his things – uniform, cleaning equipment, trolley and key card – and was at work by 9am.

After lunch, he returned to the deluxe block and worked his way through his assigned rooms.

One of the other attendants that morning was Avinash Treebhoowoon, Theekoy told the court. As he said that, he pointed to his right, where Accused Number 1 was following his every word, but didn’t look him at him directly.

Their supervisor was Sandip Moneea, he said. Another gesture to his right.

“The witness also identified Accused Number 2,” said prosecuting counsel Mahdi Manrakhan for the record.

At about 1.45pm, according to Theekoy’s account, he bumped into Treebhoowoon in room 1012 and asked if he had finished his rooms. “He said no. He said there was a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on room 1025.” When Moneea turned up and was told about the sign, he picked up the phone and called room 1025. There was no answer. He told Treebhoowoon to go and clean it.

About an hour later, Theekoy told the court, he was walking past room 1025 when he heard a woman screaming in pain. There were three screams. What sort of sound was it, asked Manrakhan? “Aagh!” he replied, raising his voice. The lawyer let the sound hang in the air for a moment.

Scared by what he heard – he thought it must be a couple quarrelling – Theekoy went to a nearby room, number 1021, and stood in the doorway.

After about five minutes, he said, he caught a right profile view of Treebhoowoon emerging from room 1025, followed by Moneea. “They were looking very anxious, and their faces were wet,” he said.

He asked Treebhoowoon what had happened. “Nothing,” he replied.

It didn’t take long for the alarm to be raised. Theekoy was with Treebhoowoon and Moneea near the boathouse when they saw Brice Lunot, the hotel’s director, running past with some other staff members. They followed him to room 1025, where a woman’s body was on the floor and her husband was crying, saying “Please save my wife.”

Theekoy says that when he got Treebhoowoon and Moneea on their own again a little later, he asked them what happened. “If you open your mouth, I’ll drag you into this,” he says Moneea replied.

Theekoy is the only eyewitness to implicate the two defendants in the killing, and he has been given immunity from prosecution to testify in court.

The two accused men’s lawyers spent the afternoon scouring for holes in his story. Why did he not tell police this version from the beginning, defence counsel Rama Valayden asked? Why did he say Treebhoowoon’s name was on his trolley when the hotel had phased out named trollies that very month? And, the lawyer revealed to gasps from sections of the public gallery, why do phone records show Theekoy made an 83-second phone call to his wife at 2.47pm — the very time he says he was standing in the doorway of room 1021, keeping an eye on the McAreaveys’ room?

On the stand, Theekoy stuck to his account. His two former colleagues looked directly at him. He didn’t so much as return a glance.