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Widower under cross-examination: She was not worth more dead than alive
Rennie Coolman, the widower of businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman, yesterday was forced to defend a barrage of accusations that he was involved in his wife’s kidnapping and benefited from her subsequent murder. Coolman, a campus manager with the University of T&T (UTT), returned to at the Port-of-Spain Third Criminal Court for a third straight day yesterday as the trial against a dozen men charged with his wife’s murder continued.
From the time the trial commenced around 9.30 am and Coolman took his seat in the witness stand, defence attorney Wayne Sturge immediately began to ask him a series of questions on his alleged involvement in the case as well as if he benefited financially when she was eventually declared dead months after being kidnapped from her Lange Park, Chaguanas, home, on December 19, 2006.
In refering to Coolman’s reported delay in calling the police, when he realised that his wife had been kidnapped, Sturge said: “Is it that you deliberately gave assailants time to get away?” Coolman: Not at all, there was no deliberate motive. Sturge: Since you say there was no motive, did you not profit from your wife's death with the house in Canada?
Coolman: Not really.
Sturge: She was worth more to you dead than alive?
Coolman: Definitely not.
Sturge: It's obvious you benefitted from your wife's disappearance?
Coolman: Quite the contrary.
Sturge then asked the value of the couple’s house in Canada, which Coolman revealed they bought together a year before she was abducted. Coolman said they bought the house for Can$342,000 but claimed he did not profit when it was sold after his wife’s death as it was purchased using a mortgage. When asked about another property in Trinidad, which he said he and Vindra had intended to buy to use as their “love nest”, he said he completed that purchase using his personal funds.
Sturge then shifted his focus to Coolman’s failure to intervene during the five-minute exchange Naipaul-Coolman had with her abductors before she was eventually shot in her leg and taken away. He refered to Coolman’s earlier testimony in the trial where he said his first reaction to the incident was to pull his live-in housekeeper, Rasheedan Yacoob, away from a window which was in the sight of his wife’s attackers.
Coolman denied his reaction was based on his instincts but agreed with Sturge that it was from “learned behaviour”.
Sturge: But your learned behaviour told you to do something to save someone else but not to save your wife?
Coolman: Given the situation, I believe I acted rationally at that point in time.
Sturge: Your instinct did not tell you to do anything else in order to save your wife?
Coolman: It led me to the action I took, to the position that if I approached the person with the gun outside, it would be a suicide mission, and it would be appropriate for police to take appropriate action thereafter.
Sturge also suggested to Coolman, that he and his wife were going through martial issues which led to him migrating to Canada for a year before the kidnapping and that he did not intervene when she was being kidnapped because he was happy for her to be out of his life. “That is not correct,” an adamant Coolman said. Sturge also asked Coolman why he did not intervene in the negotiations for his wife’s release, to which he again responded that he was following the instructions of the police.
Like his five colleagues who preceeded him in cross-examining Coolman, Sturge also devoted a portion of his questioning to a $75,000 bribe Coolman paid to a woman who promised to pay off prosecutors to avoid him being prosecuted in the case. Coolman said he paid the bribe because he was told by friends and relatives, who he could not identify, that he may be innocently prosecuted for his wife’s kidnapping.
He also admitted to discussing the issue with officials of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of T&T (Sautt) who were assigned to the case, months before he even paid the bribe.
Sturge: What was your concern?
Coolman: My concern was that I would be held in prison for a number of years and the matter would not be raised for a number of years.
However, he stated that he was not afraid of being convicted if charged because he knew he was innocent. Yesterday’s hearing ended with discussions between attorneys over a recording of the ransom calls made to Naipaul-Coolman’s brother ,Ryan, who was pretending to be Coolman, being entered into evidence and played in the trial. There will be no hearing of the trial today, as Justice Malcolm Holdip has reserved the day to allow a juror to attend a work-related meeting.
Coolman will return to the witness stand on April 28, after the Judiciary’s Easter break, which starts next week.
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.