Ian K Ramdhanie, msC,
The unexcused absence of an alternate juror is the latest delay to hit the murder trial of 12 men on trial for the murder of central businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman. The high profile trial which had been left in a virtual standstill since last week while defence attorneys and prosecutors were engaged in lengthy legal submissions was due to resume yesterday with the continued testimony of Rennie Coolman, the widower of former Naipaul Xtra Foods chief executive officer.
However, when the case was called in the Port-of-Spain High Court around 9.30 am, one of the six alternate jurors sitting on the trial was not present. Justice Malcolm Holdip, who is presiding over the trail, stood down the case for a short time in the hope that the juror was running late. After waiting for over half-an-hour, Holdip instructed the jury foreman to attempt to call the juror cellphone while his staff made checks at the juror’s home and workplace.
When the matter was recalled almost two hours later, Holdip informed the court that the juror had not answered his two cellphones and was not at work or at home. Holdip said he did not want to comment on the matter before allowing the juror to explain his absence. “All I can do is find out what went wrong and then give a stern warning,” Holdip said before adjourning the case to Monday.
Despite the juror’s absence, Holdip was still able to give his ruling on the preliminary legal issue that was raised during Coolman’s first day of cross-examination last week, which caused the almost one week delay in the trial.
The issue relates to the ability of defence attorneys to question Coolman on an incident which occurred months after his wife’s kidnapping where he was extorted by a woman pretending to be employed with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who asked his for money to avoid him being prosecuted in the case.
In his oral ruling deliverered in the absence of the 12-member jury and alternates, Holdip overruled the State’s legal team objection, leaving it open to defence attorneys to continue to question Coolman on the issue when the trial resumes on Monday.
Coolman is the sixth witness to be called by prosecutors since the trial began in late March. His stepdaughter, Risha Ali, and former live-in housekeeper Rasheedan Yacoob, who were also at the family’s Lange Park, home on December 19, 2006 when Naipaul-Coolman was kidnapped also have given evidence.
The other witnesses are police photographer PC Brenton Mack who took pictures of the crime scene and two police officers assigned to the Chaguanas Police Station, who responded to the report of the businesswoman’s kidnapping.
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 prosecutors Joy Balkaran and Kelly Thompson.