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Rennie Coolman, the widower of former Xtra Foods chief executive Vindra Naipaul-Coolman, will take the witness stand at the Port-of-Spain High Court for second time when her murder trial resumes this morning. Coolman, a campus manager at the University of T&T (UTT), is the sixth witness to be called by State prosecutors since the high-profile trial began late last month.
He started giving evidence last Thursday, but defence attorneys could not complete their cross-examination of him before the end of the hearing, forcing him to return to court today. Coolman’s testimony is expected to be followed by those of two police officers from the Anti-Kidnapping Squad (AKS) who were part of the investigation team assigned to Naipaul-Coolman’s case. In total, State prosecutors are expected to call 73 witnesses during the course of the trial, with 65 of them being police officers.
While testifying before Justice Malcolm Holdip and a 12-member jury with six alternates last Thursday, Coolman said he was having dinner at his family’s Radix Road, Lange Park, Chaguanas home, on the night his wife was kidnapped.
He said his family’s live-in housekeeper Rasheedan Yacoob was watching television in the living room, when they heard Naipaul-Coolman’s SUV pulling into their driveway. His stepdaughter Risha Ali, who also lived with the couple, was in a second floor bedroom with her son. Both Ali and Yacoob gave their version of the events while testifying in the trial a day before Coolman.
While under cross-examination, Coolman and the two women all admitted that they did not immediately contact police when they first noticed that three gunmen had surrounded Naipaul-Coolman’s car, as they claimed they were immobilised by fear. They all told jurors they hid in various parts the house after they heard a series of gunshots and were only able to contact police after Naipaul-Coolman had been taken away by her abductors.
“I was not sure if the people was going to come into the house to hurt me and my children,” Ali said during her testimony. During her almost three hour contribution, Ali became the target of intense and personal questioning from defence attorneys, which seemed to provoke her into giving short and defensive responses to their questions.
Ali was accused of having a relationship with her stepfather and “private dinners” with him. She adamantly denied these allegations. The intense cross-examination only ended, when Holdip intervened to ask the relevance of questions and Ali informed the court she was pregnant and claimed she was feeling unwell. Yacoob’s evidence, which proceeded Ali’s, was relatively short and did not attract much questioning from the accused men’s attorneys.
Coolman’s testimony dealt with mainly what he saw when his wife was kidnapped on December 19, 2006, as well as his knowledge of several ransom calls that were made to his wife’s younger brother Anand in the weeks following her kidnapping.
His testimony ended during the cross-examination of defence attorney Kwesi Bekoe, who was asking him if someone pretending to be a state attorney had extorted him to avoid him being prosecuted in the case. The question drew an immediate objection from prosecutors, causing the case to be adjourned to today to facilitate legal arguments over the issue. Besides the two family members and Yacoob, three police officers have also testified in the trial.
Police photographer PC Brenton Mack testified that he took photographs of the crime scene from the kidnapping, while police first responders Cpl Simeon Guelmo and Dolan Olivier told the court what they saw when they arrived at the businesswoman’s home minutes after the abduction. The trial continues at 9 am.