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Judge warns jurors in Vindra murder trial not to research case online

Thursday, March 27, 2014
Justice Malcolm Holdip

High Court judge Malcolm Holdip warned jurors hearing the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder trial not to use the Internet to research or discuss the evidence. He gave the warning to the 12-member jury with six alternates yesterday after a defence attorney for two of the accused raised the issue of their having access to controversial statements posted by people commenting on newspaper Web sites. Defence attorney Mario Merritt raised the issue minutes before state prosecutors were expected to call their first witness. 



Holdip had to ask the jury to return to their deliberation room while he heard almost an hour of submissions from defence attorneys and prosecutors. Members of the public and the media also were asked to leave the court for a short period to allow defence attorneys to raise a preliminary legal issue which would be dealt with before the State began to call its 74 witnesses. 



The process of legal submissions derailed the State’s plans to lead with the evidence of three police officers—two photographers and a draughtsman—during yesterday’s hearing. Instead they opted to adjourn the case to next Tuesday to allow Holdip time to decide on a preliminary issue tomorrow. When the jury returned to the courtroom, Holdip began giving them the advice on using the internet while listening to the evidence in the trial. “The world is evolving technologically. Ten years ago we did not have to deal with this,” Holdip said. 


He asked them to stay away from the social networking sites—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—and not to read online newspaper reports and corresponding readers’ comments. “It is an external opinion. We don’t want you looking at these modes of comment that would affect how you perceive the evidence in this case,” he said. Holdip then addressed reporters in the public gallery of the court, telling them to tell their editors to remove the comment facility from reports on the trial. 


(This newspaper already has a policy of doing so for all stories related to ongoing court cases.)



What it’s about

The trial began on Monday morning with the State’s lead prosecutor Israel Khan, SC, presenting his four-hour opening address to the jury in which he gave a detailed outline of the State’s case against the 12 men. Naipaul-Coolman was kidnapped from her home at Radix Road, Lange Park, Chaguanas, on December 19, 2006. A $122,000 ransom was paid to kidnappers but she was not released. 


Although her body was never found, Khan said the State would lead evidence which would prove that the accused men were involved in detaining her for eight days before she was eventually executed, dismembered and buried in a shallow grave. The evidence, he added, included several pieces of DNA and circumstantial evidence found near an abandoned structure close to where the accused men lived in Upper La Puerta, Diego Martin.



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.



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