Stricken by the fear of being innocently prosecuted for his wife’s kidnapping, Rennie Coolman paid $75,000 to a conwoman who promised to assist by bribing senior prosecutors into forgoing investigating him. Coolman made the admission yesterday while being grilled for over three hours by defence attorney Mario Merritt, who is representing two of the dozen men accused of murdering his wife Vindra Naipaul-Coolman. While under cross examination in the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, Coolman admitted he was contacted by the woman, who pretended to be attached to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), several months after his wife was kidnapped from their Lange Park, Chaguanas home on December 19, 2006.
Although the alleged fraudster’s name was mentioned several times during yesterday’s hearing, trial Judge Malcolm Holdip requested that her name be withheld in media reports to avoid her being prejudiced in her pending court case in the matter. Coolman said the woman first went to his workplace, where she obtained his cellphone number which she used to contact him. Merritt was able to get Coolman to admit he paid the woman $50,000 to bribe the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), in addition to $25,000 to bribe Senior Counsel Israel Khan, who is prosecuting the case. “My emotions made me do what I did,” Coolman said. He said in April 2007 he met the woman at Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, near to the Hall of Justice, to make the payment, but denied being aware that Khan’s office was located nearby.
Merritt then attempted to ask Coolman if he knew his actions were illegal, but was stopped by an objection from prosecutors before Coolman could respond. After they addressed the objections in chamber and returned to court, Merritt began asking Coolman about his reasoning for paying the bribes. Merritt: You did nothing wrong and you still parted with your $75,000?
Coolman: Yes. Merritt: What made you give up your hard earned money...your wife’s money? Coolman: It was said to me that I would be charged innocently without evidence. Merritt: You were told that you would be charged innocently without evidence? Coolman: That’s right. Merritt: You know that the police charge people innocently without evidence? Coolman: Yes.
Although Coolman’s extra-judicial attempt at evading the police investigation was seemingly successful, the campus manager at the University of T&T (UTT) claimed he only realised that he was being fleeced when the woman contacted him a second time and demanded a further payment. Merritt: Why did you not pay the $200,000? Coolman: I decided this was a major fraud ... I realised that she probably would continue and I had to take some form of action. Merritt: You didn’t want to part with your money? Coolman: I decided to make the call because I didn’t want it to continue. Despite his candid confession, State prosecutors quickly objected when Merritt began suggesting to Coolman that he was directly involved in his wife’s abduction. A demure Coolman was also asked why he did not utilise the $400,000 he had in a joint account with his deceased wife to assist in paying the ransom for her release.
He responded: “They did not demand or request any ransom. They continously asked to speak with her brother Anand Naipaul and her father. They did not want to negotiate with me.” During his gruelling cross-examination, Merritt repeatedly enquired about Coolman’s relationship with his wife while alluding that the couple had issues with their relationship. However, Coolman denied these assertions, stating: “We had an excellent relationship.” Merritt also sought to identify inconsistencies with the evidence Coolman gave during his wife’s preliminary inquiry, two weeks ago in the trial and in a book he co-authored. The inconsistency dealt with if Coolman saw the firearms which were allegedly used by his wife’s kidnappers. Merritt claimed Coolman first said he did not see any firearms, then changed his story when he began testifying in the trial two Thursdays ago. Merritt will continue his cross-examination this morning.
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.