Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams said yesterday that his officers will be probing the execution-style killing of Dana Seetahal, SC, with an “open mind” and will not rule out any angles or possibility. He made the comment yesterday as he refused to be drawn into speculation on why Seetahal had been targeted and announced that because of the heinous nature of the crime and her status in society, the investigation was now the number-one priority for his officers.
Speaking at a press conference at Police Administration Building, Port-of-Spain, Williams said: “We want to give the country the assurance that the TTPS is using all the available resources, internal and external, to ensure that we treat with this investigation as a number-one priority for the organisation, with the clear intention of pursuing it so vigorously that we can bring the perpetrators to justice in the shortest period of time.”
Williams noted that he had already assembled a team of investigators from various divisions, departments and units to investigate the murder, which left the legal fraternity and the wider country in a mixed state of shock, grief and confusion. News of Seetahal’s killing was also extensively reportedly across the region, the United States, UK and as far as India. Williams declined to reveal the number of officers making up the special investigative team.
“All available resources will be assigned to this investigation. So if there is a need for 1,000 officers to be assigned and that is what is necessary, we assign 1,000 officers,” Williams said. Although he admitted investigators had recovered some evidence on the crime scene, Williams repeatedly told media personal that his officers had not ruled out any motive for the killing.
He said investigators would be reviewing CCTV footage from cameras at nearby businesses on the route used by Seetahal to assist in gathering clues in the investigation, but also made a plea for eyewitnesses to come foward. “A small group of violent criminals tend to put fear through the entire society, crippling all of us from acting. It is important for all of us to stand up for this country and stand up against the criminals,” he said.
He noted that Crime Stoppers had announced a $1 million reward for information that may assist in the investigation and pleaded with eyewitnesses to come foward and assist. Williams chose not confirm or deny reports that special security measures had been put in place for Seetahal’s colleagues in the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder trial —Senior Counsel Israel Khan and Gilbert Peterson—hours after murder. However, he assured that the police would assist with security for all those who required it.
Seetahal last participated in the high-profile trial of the dozen accused men in that case last Wednesday, when she completed the testimony of the businesswoman’s husband Rennie Coolman. The trial, before Justice Malcolm Holdip, is scheduled to resume this morning, but some sources close to the trial expressed doubt that hearings would take place this week, as both attorneys representing the prosecution and the dozen men were said to have been left in a deep state of mourning after hearing the news of the incident.
Well planned hit
According to reports, shortly before midnight, Seetahal left the Ma Pau casino car park on French Street before driving onto Wrightson Road and later turning north onto Hamilton Holder Street in Woodbrook. Police said shortly after she passed the Woodbrook Youth Facility on O'Connor Street, residents were startled by a volley of gunshots which was followed by the sound of screeching tyres. The shooting took place within sight of Seetahal’s apartment at the One Woodbrook Place complex.
By the time residents contacted police and ran outside to check, they found Seetahal slumped over the steering wheel of her light blue Volkswagen Touareg. She was pronounced dead on the scene by District Medical Officer (DMO) Dr Atkin Mootoo and her body was transferred to the Forensic Science Centre in St James.
Although Williams said investigators were yet to determine the exact circumstances of the incident, some police sources said they believe it was a “well planned and co-ordinated hit” which incorporated two vehicles and a number of participants. Some expressed the view that it was possibly committed by a team who had special training, as it was performed with “military precision.”
First responders to the scene said judging from the bullet holes in the driver’s side of the SUV and the fact that it was found in a stationary position, it was likely they used two vehicles: one which stopped in front of her and another which pulled alongside to shoot at her vehicle. Crime scene investigators recovered approximately 15 spent 5.56 calibre shells on the scene. The high-powered ammunition is used in the AR-15 assault rifle.
Several of Seetahal’s colleagues joined Seetahal’s relatives on the scene and stayed until the early hours of the morning. They included attorneys Larry Lalla, Larry Williams, and David West, who was training under her in her El Dorado Chambers, as well as television personality Ian Alleyne. An emotional reigning Soca Monarch Machel Montano, who was represented by Seetahal in his assault case, was also seen crying on the scene.
Police sources said Seetahal’s SUV was towed to a crime scene laboratory in Cumuto, formerly used by the Special Anti-Crime Unit of T&T (Sautt), where ballistic testing will be performed in the next couple of weeks. The forensic centre was opened yesterday to allow Seetahal’s relatives to identify and view her body.
A preliminary post-mortem performed by forensic pathologist Dr Hughvon Des Vignes revealed that Seetahal died from shock and haemorrhaging caused by multiple gunshot wounds. Further tests are scheduled for this morning to determine, among other things, how many gunshot wounds she sustained. Dick’s team of investigators include Senior Superintendent John Daniel, Inspector Michael Veronique, and Lawrence, all of the Region One Homicide Bureau.
Family: Help cops solve her killing
Relatives of Dana Seetahal SC refused to comment to media personnel as they left the Forensic Science Centre, St James, around midday yesterday. An unnamed male relative, who stuck his head out of a car window as he drove by, screamed that the family was traumatised and would comment at a later time. In a press statement sent yesterday, relatives condemned her murder.
“Dana was our hero, our mentor and our confidante. Her untimely death at the hands of cowardly murderers is a tragedy for our family,the nation and the criminal justice system,” the statement said. In an earlier text message, Seetahal’s niece Danielle Francois called on citizens to assist in solving the murder. “Aunty would have been 'damn vex' and would want the perpetrators prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Francois said.
The funeral arrangements are yet to be announced, but the T&T Guardian was told relatives have set a tentative date of Thursday at the Tunapuna Presbyterian Church.