INDIA: Two Indian men were cleared Friday of the rape and homicide of 15-year-old British schoolgirl Scarlett Keeling whose bruised and semi-naked body was found on a Goa beach eight years ago.
Friends and relatives of the two accused, Samson D’Souza and Placido Carvalho, cheered as the verdict was read out in a packed courtroom in the state capital Panaji.
But Scarlett’s mother Fiona MacKeown said she was devastated by the outcome and promised to fight to overturn the verdict.
“I am reeling. It’s been eight years of agony. I feel devastated and will definitely be challenging the verdict,” McKeown, who looked shell-shocked as the verdict was delivered, said outside the court.
“We had been waiting all this time and it’s just rubbish. India’s whole judicial system has totally let me down,” she told reporters.
“Somebody murdered my daughter in this country and somebody must be held accountable.”
D’Souza and Carvalho had been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, using force with intent to outrage a woman’s modesty and of administering drugs with intent to harm.
But they both broke into smiles as Judge Vandana Tendulkar told the packed courtroom: “I find them not guilty of all charges.”
The softly-spoken judge’s verdict was barely audible over the din of journalists and ceiling fans in the tiny courtroom which was painted pink.
The pony-tailed D’Souza was sitting just yards away from MacKeown when verdict was read while Carvalho sat behind her at the back of the courtroom.
A stunned MacKeown had trouble leaving the courthouse as she had to cope with a media scrum as she was escorted out by her lawyer and an aide from the British High Commission.
Scarlett’s body was found on the popular Anjuna beach in the north of the small Indian tourist state, popular with Western hippies.
The teenager’s death became international news, shining a spotlight on the seedy side of the resort destination and also drawing attention to India’s sluggish justice system.
Police initially dismissed her death as an accidental drowning but opened a murder investigation after MacKeown pushed for a second autopsy which proved she had been drugged and raped.
It showed that Keeling had suffered more than 50 injuries to her body.
The trial began in 2010 but was dogged by numerous delays, including hearings of just one afternoon a month due to a backlog of cases and a public prosecutor withdrawing from proceedings.
A key witness, Briton Michael Mannion, known as “Masala Mike”, also refused to testify, dealing a huge blow to the prosecution’s case.
He had initially spoken of seeing D’Souza lying on top of Keeling on the beach shortly before she died.
Speaking to AFP on the eve of the verdict, MacKeown said she had been “devastated” by Mannion’s decision not to testify, expressing fears that it could swing the outcome of the trial.
“I felt we had a watertight case before then and without him it’s made it a much more precarious balance about which way it might go,” she said.
MacKeown and her family were on a six-month holiday to India when she, Keeling and her other daughters went on an excursion to the southern state of Karnataka, but Keeling later returned alone to attend a party.
Her body was found on the morning of February 18, 2008.
Police alleged that D’Souza and Carvalho plied Keeling with a cocktail of drink and illegal drugs, including cocaine, before sexually assaulting her and leaving her to die by dumping her unconscious in shallow water where she drowned.
They denied all the charges, claiming that the teenager died an accidental death after taking drugs of her own volition.
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation brought the case so it will now be up to them to decide whether to appeal the verdicts to the Goa bench of Mumbai’s Bombay High Court. -AFP