One woman was shot dead and another found with her throat slit and a plastic bag over her head in separate incidents on Wednesday. The body of Florentine Arneaud, 62, from St Vincent and the Grenad
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Despite being shot on first day of abduction Vindra held on for eight days
Even after being shot in her leg by her kidnappers, Central businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman still managed to cling on to life for eight days in an abandoned house in La Puerta, Diego Martin, before she was eventually executed. As she collapsed from a bullet to the chest at point blank range, the group of men who were holding her captive immediately reached for their rubber gloves and a rotary saw, then began the process of dismembering her body. Naipaul-Coolman’s body parts were then buried in a shallow grave under a cashew tree located in a forested area nearby. These were just some of the gruesome details in the State’s opening address to a 12-member jury, with six alternates, at the start of the former supermarket chief executive’s murder trial in Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday.
The State’s lead prosecutor, Israel Khan, SC, who delivered the opening address, noted that because Naipaul-Coolman’s body was never recovered by police, the details of how she was killed were pieced together from the evidence its main witnesss, Keon Gloster, who was the neighbour of most of the accused, provided and the circumstantial and scientific evidence in the case. “The prosecution is unable to say with certainty whether she was dead or alive when she was dismembered,” Khan said. The jury and members of the public in the court seemed to cringe on hearing the vivid description of the events. Many of the dozen stone-faced accused men, however, chatted quietly amongst themselves as the details were disclosed. “They cut off her legs up to her belly. They cut off both arms from her shoulders. They cut off her head. They cut her belly and chest,” Khan said. While Khan began his address by admitting that prosecutors could not prove that the dozen accused men were behind Naipaul-Coolman’s kidnapping, he nonetheless gave the State’s version of the events which took place on the night of December 19, 2006.
Khan explained that shortly after 8 pm, Naipaul-Coolman was returning home from work when she was accosted by three gunmen as she pulled into the driveway of her Radix Road, Lange Park, Chaguanas, home.
He said that the State would be relying on evidence of three witnesses to the businesswoman’s abduction, her husband Rennie Coolman, her daughter from a previous marriage, Risha Ali, and her live-in housekeeper Rasheedan Yacoob, who were all home at the time. He said that all three will testify that they heard Naipaul-Coolman’s car in the driveway and saw three masked men with guns banging on the windows. They will also testify that they heard a volley of gunshots and by the time they contacted police, Naipaul-Coolman had already been abducted, he said.
Crime scene investigators found Naipaul-Coolman’s glasses, her dentures and empty shell casing near to a puddle of Naipaul-Coolman’s blood on the driveway near her car.
Ransom calls for months
Khan also said the relatives would testify on the dozens of ransom calls they received, which lasted for months after Naipaul-Coolman’s abduction and eventual execution. “There was an insatiable thirst for money. You know after they killed this woman this distinct voice was still calling for money,” Khan said. Two senior employees at Naipaul-Coolman’s Xtra Foods supermarket chain — brothers Abid and Farouk Nabbie — who were involved in the drop off of a $122,000 ransom payment in Mausica, Arima, hours after her abduction, are also expected to testify in the trial. Khan claimed that after the kidnapping, Naipaul-Coolman was bound and gagged using duct tape and taken to an incomplete red brick structure at Upper La Puerta Road, Diego Martin, referred to by the accused men as “black album”, where she was kept captive until her death. In refering to Anthony Gloster’s evidence against his neighbours, Khan said it was the State’s case that Naipaul-Coolman was killed three days after Christmas. He said that Gloster, who was 17 at the time, told police that on December 28, he went to the building and saw one of the accused men, Lyndon James, beating the woman and demanding money before drawing a gun and shooting her in her chest. Gloster’s testimony implicates the group of men and places all of them at the scene of her execution.
Body parts dumped at sea
Naipaul-Coolman’s body was then cut into several pieces which were placed in black garbage bags. The body parts were later buried under sheets of galvanised roofing in a forested area nearby. Khan told the jury that by the time Gloster had given his statement to police and carried them to scene of the murder and burial, the body parts had already been moved. He claimed that they were exhumed by the men after they were first questioned by police and released in January 2007 and dumped at sea. Some of the circumstantial evidence recovered by police, and which is being relied on in the trial, include duct tape and digging implements found in the abandoned house, galvanize sheets and a shallow ditch at the site identified by Gloster.
The State is also relying on several pieces of DNA evidence which were found at the scenes of the kidnapping and murder. These include a piece of duct tape with Naipaul-Coolman’s blood that was found in the house, a blood-stained glove that was found near the house and ballastic evidence which shows that a shell casing found in her driveway matched a gun found at the home of one of the accused, Keida Garcia. Khan said while Gloster may attempt to recant his original statement to police in the trial, it still assisted in implicating the group as it accurately described and explained the evidence found independently by police. The trial resumes tomorrow.
Who’s in court
The dozen men before the jury and Justice Malcolm Holdip are: Allan "Scanny" Martin, twin brothers Shervon and Devon Peters, siblings Keida and Jamille Garcia and their older brother Anthony Dwayne Gloster, brothers Marlon and Earl Trimmingham, Ronald Armstrong, Antonio Charles, Joel Fraser and Lyndon James. A 13th man, Raphael Williams, was charged with the crime but died in prison in 2011 of complications from sickle-cell anaemia. Their legal team includes Ulric Skerritt, Joseph Pantor, Selwyn Mohammed, Lennox Sankersingh, Ian Brooks, Wayne Sturge, Mario Merritt, Richard Valere, Kwesi Bekoe, Colin Selvon, Vince Charles, Christian Chandler, Delicia Helwig and Alexia Romero.
The prosecution team includes Senior Counsel Israel Khan, Gilbert Peterson and Dana Seetahal, who are being assisted by senior state prosecutor Joy Balkaran.