Somebody killed Scarlett Keeling

Knapps

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01, Oct 2016

Eight years of effort to obtain justice for Scarlett Keeling came crashing down as the men accused for her culpable homicide were acquitted by Goa Children’s Court. Her mother rightly asks, “If these men are innocent, who was responsible for the death of Scarlett?” Scarlett’s is not an isolated case as known data prove we cannot afford to downplay and ignore the dangers foreign tourists encounter in Goa.

What has the Goa Children's Court decided?

  • After eight years, it has acquitted two men charged with the rape and murder of Scarlett Keeling.Scarlett was fifteen at the time.
  • The court acquitted the two men – Samson D’Souza and Placido Carvalho – as it could not find sufficient circumstantial evidence against them. It also raised doubts on the impartiality of the CBI probe which had led the two men to be charge-sheeted.
  • Fiona McKeown, Scarlett’s mother, who has fought for eight years to bring those who murdered her daughter to justice said she was devastated by the verdict – it shattered her faith in the judicial system.
  • Fiona’s lawyer explained that only the CBI has the authority to appeal the decision to the Goa bench of Bombay High Court. He told CNN, "Even if the CBI takes it to the High Court, unless it goes through fast track, we'll probably be waiting for another eight years for a ruling.”
  • Fiona has written a letter to the Prime Minister requesting him to intervene in the case and requested a special investigative team to be formed to re-investigate Scarlett’s death.She said she needs to know who is guilty of killing her daughter if not the two accused.

Why did the trial take so long and what was the major setback?

The trial began on March 3, 2010. Both the accused were alleged to have forced drugs into Scarlett, raped and later abandoned her to die.

  • A huge backlog of previous cases and frequent changes in judges as each reached their term limit – another characteristic of India’s woefully inadequate judicial system – lengthened the delay as Scarlett’s case could only be heard around once per month.

A key witness turned hostile and the case against the accused was greatly jeopardized.

  • Michael Mannion, a British citizen, was living in Goa with Samson D’Souza and his wife when the incident occurred.
  • He had at that time spoken to the media and police as a witness of the attack. He said he had conversed with Scarlett the previous evening and got the impression she was intoxicated.
  • He claimed he had warned Samson to keep away from Scarlett as she was not an adult and later on he had seen Samson on top of Scarlett outside a bar. He said he had panicked then and rode away.
  • He fled after Scarlett’s body was found and remained in hiding out of fear for his own safety. On being promised protection, he came forward and gave his account to a magistrate.
  • He left for England soon after and has repeatedly refused to return to Goa and give witness or even do so via videolink, saying he suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

When was Scarlett found dead?

She and her extended family were on a six-month holiday. Towards the end of the holiday, she pleaded with her mother to be allowed to re-visit Anjuna beach town for a Valentine’s Day party. She had earlier stayed back there for a little while with the aunt of Julio Lobo, a tour guide, as her family toured Karnataka. Her mother finally relented after trying to discourage her, and would later on say, “Of course I will regret that as long as I live. The fact is I let her stay behind.”

  • Witnesses saw Scarlett stumble into Luis’ Shack, an Anjuna beach bar at around 3 am on February 18. The bar owner said she wanted a lift home but landed up in the kitchen with D’Souza and Carvalho.
  • Murali Sagar who was present there and said Scarlett took cocaine. Mannion reported seeing Sagar and Scarlett leave the bar around 5 am; he had agreed to drop her. But fifteen minutes later there was no Sagar and Mannion said he saw D’Souza “lying on top” of Scarlett in the bar’s parking lot. Sagar later testified that D’Souza had come from the bar, grabbed Scarlett and asked Sagar to leave.
  • An anonymous call made a few hours later informed the police of Scarlett’s partially-clothed body lying face down in the waves. An autopsy was conducted on taking the body to the local morgue.

Police mishandling

  • The next day police inspector Nerlon Albuquerque, in a press conference said Scarlett had died due to drowning and it was an accident. Dr. Silvano Sapeco, the veteran pathologist who carried out the autopsy, later said he had raised the possibility of homicidal drowning but Albuquerque chose to ignore it.
  • Two days later Fiona sought out locals for information and one of them told her that it was widely assumed someone had raped and murdered Scarlett. She also found her daughter’s bikini bottoms, torn sandals and shorts lying unnoticed on the beach which suggested a callously careless investigation.
  • She and her lawyer Vikram Varma obtained permission to examine Scarlett’s body and told the media there had been 52 separate injuries; not five as reported by the police.
  • The case began to draw international media attention and politicians at the national-level called for the investigation to start afresh. A second autopsy on March 22 recommended the investigation to approach the case as a homicide. The sand around Scarlett’s pelvic area and sandy water in her lungs pointed to rape and death in shallow water.

The CBI steps in

  • D’Souza and Carvalho were arrested by the end of March, and Albuquerque and Sapeco suspended. Sagar and Mannion had committed to testify. On June 5, CBI was assigned the case – it had been more than 100 days since Scarlett’s death.
  • The CBI among other flaws brought out how shoddily the police collected clues from the place of death. They had failed to attach a pair of slippers found near the body, which according to the CBI and two witnesses (Luis’ shack owner and waiter) were D’Souza’s.
  • After a 16-month investigation, CBI reduced the charge to culpable homicide from murder. Varma and Fiona expressed disappointment – the former said loss of valuable evidence in the delay before CBI took over led to dilution of charges.

It was four-and-a-half years before Scarlett’s body was buried on what would have been her twentieth birthday – June 17, 2012.

Where did the defence stand?

The accused took the innocent till proven guilty stand and refused to provide their version of the story in the court. The defence held the absence of an eyewitness to provide an account of Scarlett’s final moments was enough to place reasonable doubt on the accusations.

  • It also portrayed the accused of being used – due to their humble standing – as scapegoats of intense media and political pressure on the Goan authorities.
  • Marvin D’Souza, defence counsel, repeatedly pointed to the first post-mortem results and dismissed the second one’s conclusion that the death can justifiably be investigated as a homicide, saying the media’s misinterpretation had blown the “stray remark” out of proportion.
  • It explained the injuries as to have occurred as she drowned or while her body was shifted to the hospital and pointed out that the presence of drugs in her system implied she could most likely have drowned to death.

Who are some of the tourists who died in “disputable circumstances” in Goa?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office says 58 British nationals have died in unknown circumstances between 2010 and 2014.

  • Denyse Sweeney was found by her friend in a distressed state outside a bar in Goa on 16 April 2010. She died a short while later. The first investigation concluded she was overdosed with drugs but a UK inquest in 2012 ruled there were no drugs in her system. CBI, to the chagrin of her family, has now concluded she died from fluid on the brain.
  • Stephen Bennett, 40, travelling from Goa to Mumbai on a holiday in 2006 was found hanged. Six accused were acquitted in 2011 and a fruitless frustration prevailed in this case too.
  • Andrew Roddick’s body was found in a plastic bag in 2014. Postmortem results were inconclusive and stalled the investigation.
  • Felix Dahl, a 22-year-old was found murdered on January 28, 2015 in Patnem, South Goa. His family seeks information and has sued the police for not filing an FIR for murder. They said they were informed the delayed verdict would be given on October 5.

These and other cases have highlighted safety concerns for tourists and police negligence.

How has tourist-influx in Goa changed?

There is a significant dip in foreign tourist arrivals that generate revenue and the state seems to be in denial of this trend.

  • Domestic arrivals have taken up 87.34 percent of the tourism market while foreign arrivals declined steadily from 23 percent in 2000, through 17 percent in 2010 to 12.6 percent after that, as mentioned in an article in The Wire.
  • In August 2015, legislator Michael Lobo brought up this concern and said the reasons were safety concerns – he specified it as “murder of Scarlett Keeling” – and horrible waste management. Other more oft cited factors are cost, India’s tighter visa policies since 2008 Mumbai blasts, lawlessness, pollution and noise, increasing intolerance – women could walk back to hotels from the beaches in bikinis ten years ago; now it’s frowned upon and branded as “indecent attire” or shamed – and rampant corruption among police officials at the lower level.

How can India prevent deaths of Scarlett and others like her

  • A range of solutions exist – from taking safety enforcement seriously to efficient and unbiased investigation of crime and a speedy judicial process. India should start with the realization that downplaying such incidents will backfire at some point of time. Instead the country needs to examine the root causes of such tragedies – is it the rape culture, or a law-and-order system ruled by power or racism – and work to eliminate them – sensitization, safety measures, responsive and efficient policing. India needs to realize as hosts, it, to a certain extent should assume responsibility for their freedom and safety, neither of which should be compromised.

Should Fiona be punished for negligence Arguments are made for and against this even as Carvalho’s lawyer Pravin Naik has said she also needs to be punished for making a statement against the judicial system to the media.Whether Fiona is punished or not, justice is still denied till those who either murdered Scarlett or raped and abandoned her to die, and the negligent officials are let off.

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Tags | Justice justiceforscarlett Law Scarlett Keeling Scarlett Keeling case Scarlett Keeling murder