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Michaela trial: Accused duo 'spotted leaving honeymoon murder room'

Witness 'saw accused pair leaving room where newly-wed was murdered'

By David Young

A jury in the Michaela McAreavey murder trial in Mauritius have heard a harrowing account of how the young bride cried out in anguish as she was strangled in her honeymoon suite.

And an eyewitness account stated that the two men accused of her murder emerged from the room moments afterwards.

Lawyer Mehdi Manrakhan, outlining the case for the prosecution, also told the jury in the island's Supreme Court about the nightmare moment her husband John discovered her lifeless body in room 1025 at the Legends Hotel.

The prosecutor said eyewitness Raj Theekoy was outside the room when he heard noises.

"He heard a female voice crying 'Agh, agh, agh' as if she was in pain," he said.

He said the witness then saw the two men accused of the crime leave the room.

Defendants Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea deny the charge of premeditated murder.

Mr Manrakhan said Michaela was the love of husband John's life and they had decided to spend a dream honeymoon in Mauritius after their wedding.

The prosecutor said Mr McAreavey had returned to their room after his wife, daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte, failed to return from fetching biscuits to have with a cup of tea. He had to get a member of the hotel staff to open the door when no one answered.

"As soon as John entered room 1025 his worst nightmare began," said Mr Manrakhan.

"In the bathroom John saw Michaela lying senseless in the bathtub."

Mr Manrakhan said medical examinations showed Mrs McAreavey died from asphyxiation due to compression of the neck.

"Medical evidence is such that there can be no doubt that Michaela had been brutally killed," he said.

While the prosecutor told the court Treebhoowoon had confessed to police about his role in the murder - which he said was a robbery gone wrong - the jury later heard claims that he accused the police of beating the statement out of him.

The prosecutor said Moneea emphatically denied involvement but the evidence would show he was a liar.

Extra security measures were implemented on the second day of the case.

The trial witnessed chaotic scenes as it began yesterday with John McAreavey mobbed by crowds outside.

The two accused were also buffeted as they were led through throngs of people.

In apparent response in the unruly scenes, security barriers were in place today as handcuffed Treebhoowoon and Moneea were escorted into court five.

Teacher Mrs McAreavey, 27, was found dead in the bathtub of her luxury hotel room just two weeks after her wedding.

She had momentarily left her sweetheart at the pool of the five star Legends Hotel to fetch the biscuits.

Treebhoowoon, from Plaine des Roches, and Moneea, from Petit Raffray, have pleaded not guilty.

The trial in the old French colonial court building is one the most high-profile criminal cases ever held on the island.

A jury of nine - six men and three women - is hearing the case.

A lone police truck transported the defendants from the high-security La Bastille prison in the nearby town of Phoenix - a more low key entrance than yesterday's speeding convoy of vehicles.

Though most Mauritians speak a variant of French as their first tongue, court proceedings are being heard in English.

Mrs McAreavey, from Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, was the only daughter of Harte, the GAA boss who has steered his native county to three All Ireland championships.

Mr McAreavey, an accountant and talented Gaelic footballer from Co Down, has returned to Mauritius with members of his and the Harte families. Mickey Harte is not attending.

Judge Mr Justice Prithviraj Fecknah is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last two to three weeks. Almost 50 witnesses are listed to give evidence.

The Legends Hotel, which has since been renamed the Lux Hotel, is in the fishing village of Grand Gaube, close to Mauritius's Grand Bay.

Mrs McAreavey taught religious education and the Irish language at St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.

Her Requiem Mass was held close to her family home at St Malachy's chapel in Ballymacilroy - the same church in which she had married a fortnight before she was killed.

Then-Irish president Mary McAleese was among dignitaries at a funeral attended by more than 3,000 people, as the newlywed was buried in her wedding dress.

Police failed to act as John passed through the gauntlet

John McAreavey paused for a moment before entering the small cobbled yard that led to court room 5.

It was almost as if he was steeling himself, not just for the day ahead but for the whole gruelling trial.

The widower of Michaela McAreavey then slowly walked into the storm awaiting him at Mauritius's Supreme Court.

He had not gone five steps before he was enveloped by the onrushing crowd.

Cameras and microphones were thrust at him like pikes by an over-eager local media pack located between him and the open air staircase to the court above.

Local police appeared almost indifferent to the spectacle; they certainly did little to ease his path through the gauntlet in front.

But his calm expression never wavered, his pace never quickened and not an angry word was uttered.

The Co Down accountant, who still wears his gold wedding ring on his left hand, was the essence of dignity. All around there was precious little evidence of it.

His sister Claire, father Brendan and Michaela's brother Mark Harte tried to form a protective bubble around him.

They were helped manfully by two officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) who have accompanied the relatives to offer the families support.

But collectively they could do little to quell the chaos.

Similar scenes greeted the defendants moments beforehand. The irony was the handcuffed Avinash Treebhoowoon and Sandip Moneea had a Mauritian police escort to ease their passage to the stairwell.

But it certainly was not the behind-locked-fences entrance typical in the UK and Ireland. The two accused were paraded through the crowds almost like livestock being brought to market, or boxers to the ring.

No dispensation was afforded to their relatives either, who found themselves jostled and shoved as they attempted to seek shelter from the snapping lenses.

With the main protagonists in court, policemen standing at the foot of the stairs gave the signal that the public could now gain access.

Cue another unseemly free-for-all.

Court room 5 was probably designed to accommodate about 80 people. At one stage in the first hour of the trial's first day there were around 190 crammed inside.

Scores of people stood at the back and around the sides to get a glimpse of proceedings. Even those quick enough up the steps to get a seat at one of the four public leather covered benches were not at much of an advantage - many of the standing overflow simply decided to position themselves in front of them.

The only discernible space in the whole court appeared to be the 5ft gap between the two defendants in the dock.

Each pressed hard against the corner of the same bench, looking like two same-poled magnets repelling the other.

Behind them the glass wall was covered with full-length pink/brown curtains. The occasional gap let in a shard of dazzling sunlight from outside, augmenting the artificial ceiling fittings already illuminating the wood panelled court below.

But if light was not a problem, sound certainly was.

The combination of bad acoustics and an even worse sound system meant initial proceedings were barely audible from any part of the public gallery.

The whirr of the air conditioners merely heightened the difficulty.

The McAreavey and Harte family members sat in the first row but still struggled to make out anything in the early stages.

Eventually additional microphones were sourced and the matter was resolved, but not without the need for a nimble-footed clerk to dash between each lawyer with one of the new mikes as they started to speak.

John McAreavey is listed as a witness in the high profile trial and was therefore not present for the majority of court proceedings.

His relatives will have no doubt told him what may await when his time comes to take the stand.

With the jury selected and other legal matters dispensed with the court rose slightly early.

But there was time for one more unusual sight as the two defendants were shuffled out along one of the public benches with those seated asked to make room to let them through.

The Mauritian justice system may be based in part on the UK model, but there are certainly many differences in court custom.

Belfast Telegraph


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