Ten days after three murder accused prisoners staged a daring escape from the Port-of-Spain State Prison, the only surviving member of the trio was taken to court yesterday to answer ten charges...
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Husband too scared to help
Rennie Coolman, the widower of murder victim Vindra Naipaul-Coolman, yesterday admitted under cross-examination that he did nothing to assist his wife during the harrowing five-minute period when her kidnappers snatched her from her car outside their Lange Park, Chaguanas, home and took her away. Coolman, the campus manager at the University of T&T, was the sole state witness called yesterday in the trial, in which 12 men are accused of murdering the Xtra Foods CEO after she was kidnapped on December 19, 2006. Coolman told special state prosecutor Dana Seetahal, SC, that he was scared when he saw a masked gunman outside their home after he heard his wife’s car pull into the driveway.
He said he was at the couple’s Radix Road home when his wife of just over a year arrived around 8.30 pm. At the time he was having dinner and the housekeeper, Rasheedan Yacoob, went to the door. He said he heard Yacoob scream and he rushed to the locked burglarproofing gate and saw a masked gunman, who turned in his direction, so he ran back to the living room. There he heard his wife’s screams and six gunshots before the car sped off. “I felt very, very scared,” he said. After the men took his wife, Coolman recalled, he asked his stepdaughter, Risha Ali, for a telephone call and called one of Ali’s friends, who was a police officer, then his brother-in-law Ryan Naipaul, before venturing outside. Outside the house he noticed blood on the driveway and a set of dentures that Naipaul-Coolman had put in months earlier. He also saw three bullet holes in the left rear side of her car.
Coolman said police came to the house about ten to 15 minutes after his wife was snatched, did preliminary investigations and installed a voice recorder. On December 24 the first ransom call was made around 9 pm, he said. This was followed by four other calls, two of which occurred several weeks after the initial contact. During all the telephone conversations with the kidnapper on the other end, Coolman’s brother-in-law pretended to be him and negotiated with the kidnappers. A total of $120,000 in ransom was paid and Naipaul offered to sell his (Coolman’s) car and give them an additional $70,000, which the kidnappers refused, as they “knew my situation,” he said. In the last conversation with the kidnappers, Coolman recalled hearing on the other end a female voice saying: “I am Vindra Naipaul-Coolman and I am injured.” He added that when Naipaul tried to have a conversation with the woman on the other end, the phone was disconnected, prompting his brother-in-law to believe that the voice was pre-recorded.
Under cross-examination by defence attorney Kwesi Bekoe, Coolman agreed he had failed to assist his wife. “I did not run and hide, I moved away from the front door from the view of the gun,” Coolman answered when asked if he hid while a masked gunman was taking off with his wife. Asked if he thought his wife needed any assistance, Coolman replied: “You could say that.” Asked if he had any good reason why he did not attempt to render any assistance to his wife, Coolman said he had a reason but was not sure it was a good one. Coolman said there was a switch which controlled the front gate but he failed to use it. He added that he was not too familiar with his neighbours or the neighbourhood security, which he did not contact during or after the ordeal. Asked why he did not contact the police at 999 at any time, Coolman said his first reaction was to get in contact with the Anti-Kidnapping Squad (AKS).
The widower said he was not involved in his wife’s business and recalled benefiting once in the form of a vacation from it, when they went to a food symposium in Colombia. He added that although they had no secrets between them, he was not privy to the financial standing of the business and disagreed that his wife did a good thing by keeping him out of the family-run business.
Coolman also told Bekoe at no time was he afraid of being prosecuted in relation to the kidnapping and subsequent murder of his wife. Bekoe, who had told Justice Malcom Holdip he would take another 30 minutes with Coolman, had his time cut short after the State objected to his asking Coolman if he had ever paid money to anyone pretending to be a state attorney.