Peru drug suspect Michaella faces 'big choice' on sentence, says lawyer

Peru drug suspect Michaella faces 'big choice' on sentence, says lawyer

MICHAELLA McCollum Connolly would be out of jail in just two years if she pleaded guilty to the drug charges she faces in Peru, her solicitor has revealed.

But if she continues to maintain her innocence, the 20-year-old will spend two years in prison before the trial even begins.

Ms McCollum Connolly and her alleged conspirator Melissa Reid, also 20, have been charged with attempting to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine out of Peru.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Belfast lawyer Peter Madden said the pair are awaiting assessment in the classification area of Lima’s brutal Virgen de Fatima jail.

They are expected to move to a permanent cell in the coming 24 hours.

“The prosecutor has decided that they must be charged with carrying the drugs because the drugs were undoubtedly found in the suitcase,” Mr Madden added.

“They have to wait for a trial in order to exonerate themselves. The problem about the Peruvian system is that the system is geared towards people pleading guilty to the offences or recognising their guilt.”

Both girls now face a “big decision” he said, explaining they would serve just over two years in jail if they recognised responsibility for the drugs trafficking charge.

“Whereas if they go to trial it will be two years before the trial starts, and then the risk of being convicted would mean that they would get no less than nine years - between nine and 15 years.”

Ms McCollum Connolly, an Irish citizen from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, does not have to make her decision immediately, he added, “but at some stage a decision will have to be made as to which course she takes”.

The 20-year-olds were stopped before boarding a flight from Lima to Madrid three weeks ago, when Peruvian police say they discovered 24lb (11kg) of cocaine hidden in food packages in their baggage.

Both women claim they were forced to carry the drugs by an armed gang that threatened to target their family members if they did not cooperate.