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Honeymoon murder accused sobs in court
A man accused of murdering honeymooner Michaela McAreavey has broken down in court after claiming he was tortured by police during interrogation.
Avinash Treebhoowoon sobbed and wiped tears from his eyes as he spoke of being separated from his wife and family on his arrest in the wake of Co Tyrone teacher’s death in a Mauritius hotel.
Giving evidence in his own defence at the Supreme Court in Port Louis, he claimed he shouted out for his mother as officers beat him as he lay naked and handcuffed on a table.
The 31-year-old also alleged he was slapped so hard on the head that he was unable to hear out of one ear.
Earlier, the former cleaner acknowledged he had been in the room inside the luxury Legends Hotel where the 27-year-old newlywed was found strangled on the day of the crime in January last year.
But at the time she died in room 1025, he insisted he was elsewhere in the exclusive resort.
Treebhoowoon and co-accused Sandip Moneea, 42, another ex-member of staff at Legends, deny murdering the daughter of Tyrone gaelic football boss Mickey Harte.
The prosecution claims they attacked her when she interrupted them stealing in her room, having left her husband by the pool to fetch biscuits for her tea.
Dressed in a white shirt and grey trousers, the defendant remained composed throughout most of his testimony until he reached the conclusion and recalled telling police on the day of his arrest to inform his wife Reshma why he would not be coming home.
“I told them I was innocent,” he said, crying.
“I was thinking about my family.”
Treebhoowoon signed a statement of confession three days after Mrs McAreavey’s death. But he has since insisted the admission was extracted by violent means.
His first day of evidence, which he delivered in his native French Creole, focused on his movements on the day of the crime and what happened to him the day after, when he was arrested at Legends.
Treebhoowoon, from Plaine des Roches, was a room attendant at the hotel while Moneea, from Petit Raffray, was his floor supervisor.
Mrs McAreavey’s widower John watched intently from the public gallery as the man accused of murdering his wife gave evidence.
Sitting with his father Brendan, sister Claire and brother-in-law Mark Harte, Mr McAreavey was assisted by a local translator.
Standing in the witness box at the other side of court, Treebhoowoon said three officers arrested him while he was working at the resort on January 11 2011 – the day after Mrs McAreavey died.
After making him show them where he kept his cleaning trolley and uniform, he said they took him away in a police van.
Before leaving, he claimed a policewoman urged him to say what he knew.
“She told me a woman lost her life,” he said.
“I told her I didn’t know what happened but I knew she lost her life.”
One of the officers who escorted him from the hotel was Chief Inspector Luciano Gerard, Treebhoowoon said.
“Mr Gerard told me ‘You have to co-operate’. I told him I don’t know anything, what can I explain to you when I don’t know anything?”
He said he was taken to a police station in the town of Piton and, inside, an officer slapped him twice on the face.
The accused claimed he was taken upstairs and police started to take a statement from him while he was crying.
He said one officer asked why he was weeping and he said it was because he had never been beaten before in his life prior to that moment.
At that, he alleged Mr Gerard took a plastic bottle and struck him over the head with the end of it three times.
Treebhoowoon said he asked the officer why he was beating him.
“Mr Gerard said ‘I’m not beating you, you will know what a beating is – now talk’,” he alleged.
He claimed officers then abruptly stopped taking his statement and said they were taking him to Port Louis, where the headquarters of the police’s specialist unit – the major crime investigation team (MCIT) – was based.
The accused claimed police constable Jean Robert Manoovaloo slapped him twice on the same cheek when he was leaving.
Treebhoowoon alleged that on the way to Port Louis, the police stopped the van in the district of Pamplemousses and took him out to inflict further violence.
He said he was punched four times in the stomach.
“I told them I don’t know anything,” he recounted to the jury.
Treebhoowoon claimed the beating at Pamplemousses stopped only because passers-by could see what was happening.
On arrival at the MCIT offices, the defendant said he was taken upstairs to the back room – a kitchen.
He said police briefly left, with one officer warning him, “Take your breaths well, think well what you need to say to us.”
He told the court he was still crying.
The accused then claimed another officer came in and said he could tell him what happened if he did not want to talk to the others.
Treebhoowoon said this policeman told him that a wet bed was hard to carry because it weighed so much while a dry bed could be carried.
“He said ‘Do you want to carry a heavy bed in your head? Why are you trying to cover up for your friends?’.”
He said the other officers soon returned, took off his handcuffs and ordered him to strip naked. He claimed he was then told to get on the table.
“I climbed up, I was nude,” he said.
He said he was recuffed, one officer held his hands, another held his legs while one of their colleagues whipped him on the soles of his feet with a cable pipe.
“I shouted out ‘Oh mother’,” he told the court.
Treebhoowoon said the officers then ordered him off the table and told him to jump up and down so the “blood does not clot” and cause bruises.
“I was crying, I could not stay with the pain,” he said.
“I wasn’t able to stand on my feet, they were in pain.”
He said more officers came into the room and he was placed on a chair, still naked.
“They took a towel into the kitchen and covered that on my face so that I could not see,” he claimed.
“They beat me, slapped me, punched me – I was in pain, I couldn’t stand it.”
He alleged one officer then slapped him five times on the head, causing him to lose hearing in his left ear.
“While slapping me, I got hurt in my ears. I didn’t tell them that my ears got hurt because I was scared,” he said.
“I wasn’t able to hear with my left ear.”
He said that throughout he pleaded innocence.
“I never seen that woman,” he recalled telling officers.
“How can I kill someone I have never known? My parents have not inculcated such bad things in me.”
Treebhoowoon told the court that he was then forced to have a shower downstairs in front of watching police officers.
“I took a shower in front of them,” he said.
After getting changed, he said head of the MCIT Assistant Commissioner Yoosoof Soopun came over to him.
He said he placed his leg on a chair in front of him and revealed a gun in his sock.
“He showed me his revolver and told me ‘If you don’t speak the truth, you will be killed by it today’.
“I told him I’m innocent.”
The defendant said his alleged ordeal at the hands of the MCIT that day ended when he was taken to a detention centre.
He said he told a policeman to tell his wife he would not be coming home.
At this stage in his evidence, Treebhoowoon became visibly emotional and his voice faltered.
“My wife lives alone,” he said.
“I told him to inform my wife, inform her what happened and that I won’t be returning home today.”
Earlier in his testimony, Treebhoowoon was questioned by his lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry about his movements on the day of the murder.
The defendant said he started cleaning room 1025 at around 2.10pm.
But he claimed he left at 2.35pm – about 10 minutes before the prosecution claims Mrs McAreavey was strangled.
“When I finished in room 1025 at around 2.35 I was putting my trolley in order in the corridor when I remembered that I had forgotten to replace the shampoo in room 1023,” he said to the jurors.
He first claimed that was around 1.40pm but quickly corrected himself to say he meant 2.40pm.
The defendant said he then went to other nearby rooms to place invitation cards to a cocktail event inside.
After that he claimed he went to the boathouse of the resort to try to get a flat tyre on his trolley pumped up.
The person who did that was not there, he told the court, so he went back to the accommodation blocks and met Moneea and fellow room attendant Raj Theekoy outside another room.
They were soon joined in conversation by attendant Govinden Samynaden, he said. Treebhoowoon claimed the four men had been chatting outside the room for around 30 minutes when manager Brice Lunot and bellboy ran past on the way to 1025.
“Brice Lunot told Moneea to follow them, there’s a problem in room 1025,” he said.
The accused then described arriving at 1025 to see the honeymooner on the floor.
“There was a lady lying on her back and her husband was crying,” he said.
He said he had seen Mr McAreavey more than an hour before – at 1.55 – when he asked if he could clean his room.
“He said wait a minute while I ask,” Treebhoowoon claimed.
The accused said Mr McAreavey then knocked on the door and spoke with someone inside.
He said he then went to clean 1023 and when he returned to 1025 the Do Not Disturb sign was still on the door.
The defendant claimed he went to find his supervisor Moneea in 1012 to ask what to do.
He said Moneea phoned the room and when no one answered, dispatched him to go and clean it.
After seeing Mrs McAreavey lying in the room later that afternoon, Treebhoowoon said he was told to leave the scene.
He said he left dirty linen back at a pantry, dropped paperwork with housekeeping and then went to the staff canteen with Mr Theekoy, Mr Samynaden and other colleagues for around 15 to 20 minutes.
Mr Theekoy, who was originally charged in relation to the murder but had the case against him dropped, has appeared as a key prosecution witness in the trial and directly implicated both Treebhoowoon and Moneea.
The defendant said he was due to go home later in the evening but he was called back to give a police statement about Mrs McAreavey’s death.
There were heated exchanges between defence and prosecution counsel at the outset of his evidence as the state counsel Mehdi Manrakhan objected to the way Mr Teeluckdharry was questioning his witness.
Judge Prithviraj Fecknah intervened.
“I will just call upon everybody to calm down,” he said.