Junior Achievement of T&T launched its nationwide JA Leadership Debate Series 2017 last week, which aims to empower young people to realise their full potential.
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I can’t handle pressure now
The pressure of reliving the memory of her mother’s kidnapping almost proved too much for the daughter of murdered central businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman yesterday and she lost her composure several times while being cross-examined. Risha Ali, who shared her mother’s Lange Park, Chaguanas, home with her three children and her stepfather, Rennie Coolman, spent a little over two hours in the witness box, explaining what she saw while peeking through a second-storey window on the night of the kidnapping.
While Ali seemed calm and collected while being led through her witness statement by special state prosecutor Israel Khan, SC, her mood noticeably changed when defence attorneys came to cross-examine her. Several of the questions involving her relationship with her stepfather were met with cold responses. Coolman is listed as the next witness to testify in the trial, which resumes this morning.
Asked about Coolman’s occupation yesterday, Ali could only say he was a tutor at a tertiary institute but could not say where he was currently employed. “That is not my business. He was not minding me,” Ali said.
Defence attorney Ulric Skerritt was also given a series of short answers when he began suggesting she was romantically involved with her stepfather. Skerritt asked: “Did you not have private dinners together?” “No that is not my husband,” Ali said in a sharp, defensive tone. Attorney Mario Merritt, who is representing two of the dozen men on trial for Naipaul-Coolman’s murder, also asked Ali if she was aware that Coolman had been extorted by someone into paying money to avoid being prosecuted in the case.
“I only know what I read in the newspapers,” Ali said. The series of questions left Ali visibly frustrated, prompting her to make an outburst against the attorneys. “I am not well. I am pregnant. I can’t handle any pressure right now. I am trying my best,” Ali said, before Justice Malcolm Holdip intervened to warn the defence attorneys to contain their questions to those relevant to the case.
During her testimony, Ali told the 12-member jury and six alternates that on December 19, 2006, she was in an upstairs bedroom at her family’s Radix Road, Lange Park, home when she heard her mother’s SUV pull into the driveway. Ali said she looked outside when she heard a man arguing with her mother. As she peered through a window, she said she saw a man standing next to her mother, pointing a gun at her. Ali said the man hit her mother in the face with the gun and then she heard a series of gunshots.
At that point, she said, she grabbed her youngest child and went to her mother’s bedroom from where she called the police.
Traumatised by attack
Ali said when she realised that the police emergency number was busy, she decided to call her boyfriend, a labourer. She said she hid in a corner of the room until Coolman came into the room and told her that the men had taken Naipaul-Coolman and left. Ali said the only thing Coolman told her after coming into the room was: “You could come out now, they left with your mom.” Asked about her apparent delay before contacting police when she realised her mother was being attacked, Ali said she was too frightened to act.
“I was not sure if these people was going to come into the house to hurt me and my children,” Ali said. Also taking the witness stand yesterday was the family’s former live-in housekeeper Rasheedan Yacoob, who was downstairs with Coolman when his wife was being kidnapped. Yacoob explained that when she first heard the commotion between her employer and her kidnappers, she looked through an open door, secured by a metal gate.
She saw two strange men near Naipaul-Coolman’s car, but said she could not identify them or what they were wearing because of poor lighting in the yard. Yacoob said on hearing the gunshots, Coolman, who was sitting near her, grabbed his phone to make a call. Yacoob was stopped before she could reveal the details of Coolman’s conversation as this was deemed hearsay by Holdip. At the end of yesterday’s hearing, both Ali and Yacoob were relieved from attending further hearings.
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.