Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Trial resumes after Easter break
After an almost week-long intermission, the trial against a dozen men charged with the kidnapping of former Naipaul’s Xtra Foods chief executive Vindra Naipaul-Coolman will resume this morning with the continued cross examination of the victim’s husband Rennie Coolman. Today’s hearing is Coolman’s fifth day in the witness stance since he first testified before Justice Malcolm Holdip, in the Port-of-Spain Second Criminal Court, Hall of Justice on April 3.
During his previous appearances Coolman had been forced to defend himself against a avalanche of piercing questions from defence attorneys who accused of him profiting from his wife’s disappearance and death as well as failing to come to her assistance when she was abducted from their Lange Park, Chaguanas, home, on December 19, 2006.
Coolman, who was hiding behind the safety of the burglar proofing of the house along with his stepdaughter, Naipaul-Coolman’s children and the family’s live-in housekeeper, claimed that he was immobilized by fear as he felt any attempt to save his wife would be a “suicide mission.”
Although he admitted that he did not look outside when he started hearing gunshots in their driveway, Coolman claimed he felt sure she was being kidnapped and, as such, he bypassed the traditional emergency hotline and contacted the Anti-Kidnapping Squad directly after speaking with Naipaul-Coolman’s daughter. The campus manager at the University of T&T (UTT) also repeatedly denied profiting from an inheritance after his wife was declared dead months after she was kidnapped and her body was never found.
Coolman said his wife did not have a will but revealed that their shared a $400,000 joint account and were co-owners of a property in Toronto, Canada—in which Coolman’s son, from a previous marriage, lived. He said although the house was sold after his wife’s death he did not profit as it was purchased on a mortgage.
When pressed on why he did not participate to negotiations for his wife’s release and did not use his personal finances to contribute to the $122,000 ransom that was eventually paid, he said he was following the instructions of her family and the police who elected Naipaul-Coolman’s brother, Ryan, to negotiate.
Defence attorneys have spent a significant portion of time of Coolman’s cross-examination, quizzing him on a $75,000 bribe he payed to a woman who promised to bribe the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the State’s special lead prosecutor Israel Khan, SC, to avoid him being prosecuted. Coolman said he agreed he paid the sum after he was advised by relatives and friends that he may be innocently charged in connection with his wife’s kidnapping.
Despite discussing his concerns with investigators from the Special Anti-crime Unit of T&T (Sautt), Coolman said he still felt compelled to take up the con-woman’s offer when she first contacted him almost four months after the kidnapping. “I did it to protect myself and my family. It was an emotional response,” Coolman said. Coolman said he ended the arrangement when he began to feel that he was being extorted when the woman called him again demanding a follow-up payment.
In the face of the defence questions, Coolman has maintained his version of the events. Media personnel have been asked to withhold the name of the alleged con woman as her trial for attempting pervert the course of justice is still pending.
Coolman is the sixth witness to be called by prosecutors in the case since it began in late March. Naipaul-Coolman’s daughter Risha Ali, their housekeeper Rasheedan Yacoob and three police officers, who were the first responders to the businesswoman’s house had already given evidence. In total 74 witnesses, a large majority being police officers are expected to testify.
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.