Defence lawyer draws on Mason and Columbo for inspiration

Looking directly at the jurors, Rama Valayden raised his right hand and slapped himself hard on both cheeks.

The nine members looked taken aback, especially when the barrister urged them to do the same.

With the dramatic flourish, one of many during his 90-minute address, the lawyer was attempting to explain that slap marks were not readily visible in subsequent medical examinations, no matter how hard you dealt them.

Mr Valayden was opening the case for his client Sandip Moneea but briefly touched on the alleged brutality meted out by the police to co-accused Avinash Treebhoowoon.

In a startling revelation, he then claimed he had got one of his legal team to subject him to another form of brutality alleged by the defendant — whipping on the feet with a plastic pipe. “I asked the big guy to do it on me,” he said pointing at a rather well-set junior counsel sitting behind him. “But you can try it too.”

Mr Valayden is a former justice minister, attorney general and once led one of Mauritius’s main political parties. Yesterday, the oratorical skills that aided his political career burned just as brightly in the courtroom.

Speaking with only rough notes, he expounded at length on the concept of justice before focusing in on the case against Moneea and why he was sure he was not guilty of murdering honeymooner Michaela McAreavey.

Then he drew on French philosopher Voltaire. “He said to the living we owe respect,” he explained. “But to the dead, the deceased in the presence case Mrs Michaela Harte, we owe only one thing — the truth.

“I wish I was Perry Mason, that great fictional barrister,” he revealed, “able in the course of the case to bring the real murderer in to face you, but I’m not Perry Mason, I’m only Rama Valayden.”

When expressing disgust that police had not carried out what he claimed were basic tests to check if the times recorded by room entry systems and CCTV cameras corresponded with real time, he name-checked another TV crime solver. “Are we Mauritians that stupid? Have we not watched Columbo for so many years, are we that stupid not to carry out tests?”

He ridiculed the police’s response to evidence that may have cast doubt on the guilt of the accused.

“We were satisfied,” he said sarcastically, repeating the words of Assistant Commissioner of Police Yoosoof Soopun. “As satisfied as that team of Italy that has been beaten 4-0 yesterday [by Spain in the Euro 2012 final]?

“Here we are not talking about sport, here we are talking about the lives of two people, the reputation of Mauritius and, worse, the life of a person who’s been here on honeymoon.”

He said police gave a media briefing to express this so-called satisfaction the day after DNA tests were received that showed no link to the accused.

The press conference, Mr Valayden claimed, was: “Better than when JFK was killed, remember those of us who are old enough, the next day President Johnson came in [to a press conference] alleging we know [who did it] and up to now it remains a complete mystery of the American nation.”

Injuries that should have been present on his client if he was, as alleged, involved in a violent struggle with Mrs McAreavey were not there.

This he claimed was entering the world of illusionist David Copperfield.

The focus of much of his fire was prosecution witness Raj Theekoy.

If you could bank untruths, he said, Mr Theekoy would be a rich man.

Pointing to his client and co-accused Treebhoowoon in the dock, he added: “Not once has he been able to watch these men in face, not like Mr John McAreavey who looks at them because in his head he believes these are murderers of his wife.”

The newlywed’s widower was not in court to hear the address.

While the characters, both real, historical and fictional, upon which he drew inspiration were as numerous as they were diverse, there was one he returned to again and again.

In what at times felt like a sermon, he insisted God was the key figure looking over all the proceedings. He noted that jurors swore an oath to discharge their duty to reach a fair verdict. “So help you God you say,” he declared. “And God will help you.”

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