McAreavey trial evidence concludes

Wed, Jul 4, 2012, 01:00

A verdict is anticipated next week in the trial of two men accused of murdering honeymooner Michaela McAreavey in Mauritius after the final pieces of evidence were presented to the jury.

The remaining four defence witnesses testified and the last exhibits were produced at the Supreme Court in Port Louis today, bringing to a close the case for defendant Sandip Moneea.

With the case for co-accused Avinash Treebhoowoon having been heard last week, the long running and much delayed trial is nearing an end.

Judge Prithviraj Fecknah told jurors that court would adjourn for a day and a half before the closing statement for the prosecution is heard on Friday. Defence statements will follow on Monday with the jury set to be sent out later in the week following judicial directions.

“The proceedings are not over,” said Mr Justice Fecknah. “What is over at this stage is the evidence. We still have a few steps to follow.”

More than 40 witnesses testified during the last 30 days of evidence. The case was originally listed for nine days. The judge said court transcripts already run to some 2,000 pages.

Both the accused worked at the island’s Legends Hotel at the time Mrs McAreavey was found dead in room 1025 last January.

Ex-floor supervisor Mr Moneea (43), from Petit Raffray, and former room attendant Mr Treebhoowoon (32), from Plaine des Roches, deny her murder. The prosecution claims they attacked the newlywed when she interrupted them stealing in her room, having left her husband John at a poolside restaurant.

Mr McAreavey, his father Brendan, sister Claire and brother-in law Mark Harte sat in the front row of the public gallery as the last witness was called.

He was a representative of a phone company who confirmed that a call from a mobile owned by Moneea was made just after 2.45pm on the day the Co Tyrone teacher was strangled. This is around the time the prosecution contends Mrs McAreavey was attacked by the two defendants.

While the defence insist the call proves Mr Moneea was not involved, the prosecution claim he was phoning his sister to ask advice on what he had just done.

Dhanraj Lillah from Mauritius Telecom, in a brief appearance in the witness box, outlined timing details of the call. He said it was made at 14.45 and 20 seconds.

“It lasted four minutes, 18 seconds,” he said.

The witness also said the time was synchronised with GPS satellite, adding: “It’s accurate time.”

During the course of the trial key prosecution witnesses Raj Theekoy implicated Mr Moneea and Mr Treebhoowoon, claiming he saw them coming from the direction of room 1025 minutes after he heard a woman scream in pain from inside.

Under cross-examination it was revealed the star state witness called his wife during this period. He explained he phoned her when waiting near room 1025 to see who would emerge.

Mr Lillah confirmed a phone registered to Mr Theekoy made an outgoing call at 2.47pm that lasted 83 seconds.

Mr Theekoy was originally provisionally charged with conspiracy to murder but all criminal proceedings against him were dropped after he spent 77 days in prison and he was granted immunity from prosecution to testify.

Mr Moneea has denied prosecution claims that he doctored a cleaning report sheet the day after the murder to try to make it look like Mr Treebhoowoon was cleaning 1028 and not 1025.

Earlier today in court, the housekeeping manager at Legends, Vivekanana Jeerasoo was called by Mr Moneea’s defence team to testify. He said the room report sheets were kept by the housekeeping department and it was he who handed them to police investigating the crime.

Mr Jeerasoo described Mr Moneea as a “very straight” worker and said while there had been complaints about him during his time at the hotel they were related to the cleanliness of rooms, not his behaviour.

According to both defendants, Mr Treebhoowoon came to find Mr Moneea at about 2pm on the day of the crime to ask him if he should clean the McAreaveys’ room even though there was a Do Not Disturb (DND) sign on it.

Mr Treebhoowoon told the court he had met Mr McAreavey around half an hour earlier and he had told him to come back in five minutes.

Mr Moneea has claimed he rang through to the room to see if anyone was there, and when no-one answered he dispatched his co-accused to clean it. Mr Treebhoowoon said that task took him 25 minutes and he left at 2.35pm - some 10 minutes before the prosecution contends Mrs McAreavey was killed.

The prosecution has insisted Mr Moneea broke procedures by sending Mr Treebhoowoon to clean the room when the DND sign was there, and further alleges he was actually telling him to go and see if there was anything valuable to steal.

But Mr Jeerasoo told Mr Moneea’s barrister Rama Valayden that his former colleague had acted correctly. “If a client asks for his room to be done at a particular time the supervisor will tell the room attendant to go and do that particular room,” he explained.

Prosecutor Mehdi Manrakhan asked the witness if he was aware that on the morning of the crime a room service attendant had logged a report with security to inform them that he had seen a wallet lying on a coffee table in 1025.

Mr Jeerasoo explained that the issue would have been dealt with by the security department, and not housekeeping.

During the trial, former Legends room service attendant Ravindradeo Seetohul told the court he saw Mr Treebhoowoon in room 1025 cleaning from about 2.10pm to 2.25pm on the day. He said he also saw him talking to security guard Dassen Naraynen at the door of the room during this period.

Mr Naraynen was originally arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder but is now facing a provisional charge of conspiracy to commit larceny in connection with the case.

Mr Seetohul claimed he was walking away from the area at about 2.25pm when Mr Moneea passed him walking in the general direction of room 1025.

As part of this testimony he said around this time he was approached by a hotel gardener who asked him what time it was - he explained this is how he was able to say when things happened because he had looked at his watch.

He told court he did not know the gardener’s name.

Today Legends gardener Chandra Peertaub appeared as a witness for Mr Moneea to confirm he asked a fellow employee for the time that afternoon - but he insisted it was not Mr Seetohul. He said it was actually Mr Naraynen.

Mr Valayden asked if there were any other gardeners working in the area round the deluxe block that contained 1025

“No, just me,” replied Mr Peertaub, who is known in the hotel by the nickname Bayo.

Legends gardening supervisor Soopayah Moothen then took to the stand to tell the court he had sent Mr Peertaub to the deluxe block on the afternoon in question.

“You sent any other gardeners there?” asked Mr Valayden.

“Not on that day,” he replied.

Mr Manrakhan pressed him on whether the deluxe block was separate from the rest of the hotel. The witness confirmed it was surrounded by other landmarks and buildings. But he said he did not know how many gardeners were working in those surroundings on the day of the murder.

Earlier Mr Moothen said other gardeners were with him working on a project at the hotel’s plant nursery.