Man accused of murdering ex-wife Damienne Morel is ‘not guilty’ according to the Seychelles Supreme Court
The Seychelles' courts building 'Palais de Justice' at Ile du Port. ( Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Only a few days before it is exactly one year after the brutal killing of a 49-year-old Seychellois woman Damienne Morel, the Seychelles Supreme Court has ruled that “there is no evidence on which the accused can be convicted.”
Morel’s ex-husband was the sole person charged with murder in December last year after he was accused of committing the crime.
The incident in which Morel, a mother of two was killed after suffering multiple stab wounds, occurred in her home at La Retraite in the northern district of Anse Etoile on the main Seychelles island of Mahé, in the early hours of November 25, 2014.
The police reported at the time that two masked men had broken into her home.
The 20-year-old daughter of the deceased was also hospitalized after being wounded in the attack.
Three suspects including the victim’s ex-husband were arrested following the brutal incident; two of them were subsequently released.
On Wednesday, a little over a week after the ‘jury trial’ had started, the Chief Justice of the island nation’s Supreme Court Mathilda Twomey directed the jury to return “a not guilty verdict” and upheld a motion of ‘no case to answer’ presented by the defence team.
The defence was contesting evidence presented by the prosecution.
In a news report aired by the national television, the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) Wednesday evening, Anthony Juliette, one of two attorneys representing the accused explained that DNA evidence presented was not linked to his client.
“The clothing the lady [Damienne Morel] was wearing that night was sent to Mauritius and when the results came back it revealed that the DNA of two people were found; the DNA of a woman as well as the DNA of a man. The DNA of the deceased was confirmed and it was not known to whom the man’s DNA belonged to so SNA samples were taken from the accused and sent to Mauritius and the results that came back said clearly that the DNA [found on the piece of clothing] did not belong to the accused,” said Juliette.
In her ruling on the motion of ‘no case to answer’ submitted by the defence, Judge Twomey commented on two other pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution.
The first relates to the statement of the wounded daughter of the deceased in court saying that “she recognised her father as one of the intruders at the house”.
“….I warn myself that the identification of the accused person was made by a person who had been injured and had lost of blood, was lying on the floor in a corridor which was dimly lit by an exterior light on the outside of the kitchen wall not adjacent to the corridor in question and that although she was near sighted she was not wearing her glasses at the time of the identification,” said Twomey in her verdict.
“It must also be noted that two out of court statements made by the witness […] do not support the evidence given in court. She does not identify her father but states that one of the intruders had the build of her father and walked in a way that was similar to her father….I also note that in the same statement the build of another intruder was described as that of the murdered victim’s boyfriend…”
Twomey also commented on the testimony of two shopkeepers of La Retraite [the same area where the crime was committed] who recalled selling a bottle of Guinness [alcohol] to the accused person at their shop located some 10 minutes’ walk from the victim’s house, some four hours before the incident.
“…For the purposes of section 249 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code there is no evidence on which the accused can be convicted. It is my belief that it would be a derogation of my duty as a judge to allow this criminal process to continue. It would not only be in contravention of the Criminal Procedure Code, the rules of evidence but also of the constitutional right of the accused to have a fair hearing.”
Morel’s family have expressed their “shock and anger” following the outcome of the case.
“We feel that it was not a fair trial because it was not brought to completion…we are asking so many questions. How can a trial end without the defence bringing its own witnesses to the stand as they had indicated that they had witnesses to present in court? Why weren’t the jury allowed to decide for themselves based on the evidence presented?,” two of Morel’s sisters told SNA on Thursday adding that they would have also wanted the jury to visit the crime scene [on a locus in quo].
“If the case was completed and the accused was found guilty or not guilty ok we would have known that the case is completed but right now we are in a situation where we feel our sister was brutally killed and the verdict is also a brutal injustice”
While the case has ended with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court upholding the defence’s motion of ‘no case to answer’, Justice Twomey has nevertheless called on the relevant authorities “to work on presenting the person guilty of murdering Damienne Morel before the Courts for trial.”
The outcome of the case was also a blow for the prosecution team led by the Principal State Counsel David Esparon who feels that they had a "strong case" from the start.
“Even if there was the issue of DNA of another person, it shows that someone was injured, but there was another person in the house [the ex-husband] who was recognised by his daughter and this was the basis of our case,” Esparon told SNA explaining that the prosecution had relied on a past case judged by the both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal to submit that recognition evidence may sometimes be stronger than identification evidence
According to Esparon the prosecution faced several dilemmas including having to trace an Indian couple who given a statement saying they had sold alcohol to the accused on the night of the murder at their shop located only 10 minutes from the victim’s house.
The couple who have moved back to Chennai, India were able to testify to the Court through Skype.
“We also had a witness, a convict sharing a cell with the accused [while he was being detained] who provided a statement to the prosecution saying the accused had allegedly confessed to committing the crime but he turned hostile when he took the stand and we could not use his evidence,” added Esparon.
The prosecution was also counting on presenting circumstantial evidence suggesting the person responsible for the crime was familiar with the house and also the accused ‘denial or refusal of explanation’ when confronted by his daughter while in hospital.
“The daughter who allegedly recognized [her father] trough his build and the way he walks before she was assaulted, confronted her father at the hospital by stating to him that the person who attacked her looked like him. But we could not use this point since it was ruled out as inappropriate at this point during a submission of no case to answer,” explains Esparon.
“At the stage of a submission of no case to answer the standard of proof which the prosecution should bring is that the prosecution should at least prove a primafacie case [the establishment of a legally required rebuttable presumption] that should be somewhat at 30 percent level. But as legal professionals we should respect the judgement of the court.”
Both the defence and the prosecution do not have any right to an appeal when there is a submission of no case to answer and also the prosecution does not have any right of appeal in any criminal cases according to the Seychelles laws compared to some countries like South Africa.
The prosecution through the office of the Attorney General will now be advising the police which will decide whether to investigate the case further.