The two men worked at the Mauritius hotel where Michaela McAreavey was slain
She was found strangled in the bathtub of the honeymoon suite
Supporters of the defendants were jubilant after the verdicts
Family members of McAreavey and her widower feel "devastation and desolation"
Two former hotel workers have been cleared of the high-profile murder of an Irish newlywed on her honeymoon in Mauritius last year, police on the Indian Ocean island said Thursday.
Michaela McAreavey, a 27-year-old teacher and ex-beauty queen, was found strangled in the bathtub of her hotel room in January 2011. The police and prosecutors said she had been murdered after disturbing thieves raiding the honeymoon suite.
The accused, Avinash Treebhoowoon, 32, and Sandip Moneea, 43, worked at the luxury Legends Hotel at the time and were arrested a day after McAreavey was killed.
Both denied the murder during a two-month trial and police confirmed Thursday they were acquitted by a jury at the Supreme Court in the Mauritian capital, Port Louis. The jurors took two hours to deliberate and both verdicts were unanimous, police said.
Family friends in Ireland said the ex-beauty queen’s widower, Gaelic football star John McAreavey, was in a packed courtroom along with other relatives to hear the verdict announced.
The friends said family members left the court immediately, as the acquittals were greeted by cheering from local people in the public gallery. The family friends also said defense lawyers were carried from the court by jubilant supporters of the defendants.
In the early stages of the investigation, the Mauritian authorities said Treebhoowoon had admitted to the murder, but his lawyers said durin the trial that police had fabricated a confession and forced him to sign it.
Local media said the case provoked intense interest in Mauritius as it involved the murder of a tourist. It also dominated the news agenda in McAreavey’s native Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. She was well-known on both sides of the Irish border as the daughter of one of the country’s best-known sporting figures, Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte, and a winner of the Ulster Rose of Tralee beauty pageant title.
The Harte and McAreavey families issued a written statement after Thursday’s verdict. It read: “After waiting 18 months in search of justice for Michaela and following the endurance of seven harrowing weeks of this trial, there are no words which can describe the sense of devastation and desolation now felt by both families.”