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Seetahal had narrow escape from rapist in 1987: ‘I don’t tempt fate’

Monday, May 5, 2014
Israel Khan SC, left, looks on as Dana Seetahal SC peers into a bag at a gift she received as a parting gift in 2008, as she left Khan’s chambers to set up her own. Photo courtesy Daniel Khan

In November 1990, T&T Guardian journalist Gail Alexander spoke to Dana Seetahal for a series titled Fast Lane. During the interview, Seetahal recalled a brush with a rapist. After talking to some of Seetahal’s colleagues about her killing yesterday, Alexander recalls excerpts of that interview in the following piece in Seetahal’s memory.


Back in November of 1990, as she recollected how she had fought off a rape attempt in 1987, the late Dana Seetahal said she agreed with the adage “it could happen to any woman.” And she went on to say, “I don’t tempt fate.” Seetahal was then speaking about the rape attempt—which occurred in November 1987—in an interview for the Fast Lane column, a 1990 feature series. This dealt with unusual people who did unusual things, and Seetahal was one of them.


She was five foot one inch tall. Her attacker, who was six feet four inches, pounced one afternoon while she was jogging along the Priority Bus Route near St Augustine. Seetahal said she saw him coming towards her from the opposite direction, but thought nothing until he came closer. She related how he had lunged toward her and tried to grab her hips.


But she sprang into action, slashing him across the face with a bunch of keys and letting loose some piercing screams. She said at that time she wasn’t thinking about the purple belt in karate she held or how fit running had kept her. She had started running in 1984 and took it very seriously, doing short races and a marathon up to 1990. She was an avid swimmer and was also into “working out.” So she succeeded in deterring her attacker, who ran off.


A young magistrate at the time, Seetahal later learned that the man had several previous convictions for rape and assault. He got three months in jail for attacking  her. Empathising with rape victims, she said the foiled attack made her more alert and more careful. 


The Fast Lane story chronicled Seetahal’s path from the time the Tacarigua girl moved from Bishop Anstey High to Hugh Wooding Law school and her endeavours in the legal arena and the bench at the time. There were cases she could not forget when she shed her judge’s robes at day’s end.


She also spoke about her time in law school, where she promoted T&T culture and popularised the “Dana Strut”—her brand of jump-up. She recalled some of her classmates, the National Alliance for Reconstruction’s (NAR) Joseph Toney and Deborah Moore Miggins, and that chum Israel Khan was a “very good wicketkeeper.”



Khan shattered
Yesterday, Israel Khan SC, deeply shocked and in his own words “flabbergasted and in a tailspin,” said he’d heard of Seetahal’s death around 1 am yesterday from police. “It’s now 2.15 pm when you called, and I realise I’m still in my pyjamas and haven’t eaten—I’m in a daze,” Khan said. The bullets which snuffed out Seetahal’s life in Woodbrook also shattered their 37-year friendship.


Khan was lead prosecutor in the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman case in which Seetahal was the third lead and Gilbert Peterson the second lead prosecutor. He said security for the remaining two prosecutors and others on the case was immediately enforced after Seetahal’s death. Grieving the loss of his schoolmate, friend, colleague and chum, Khan spoke in low dull tones of their meeting at the Cave Hill campus of UWI, how they “clicked” and how both were admitted to practice at the late Aeneas Wills’ chambers.


“We worked side by side in such a small office that if one of us had to interview someone, the other had to go out into the waiting room until it was finished,” Khan recalled Seetahal later left for the Solicitor General’s department and Khan remained in private practice. They both taught at the law school. When Khan launched his own chambers, Seetahal worked with him for eight years, during which time both achieved senior counsel (“silk”) status.


Seetahal launched her own El Dorado chamber in 2008. But the duo retained such a good relationship that Khan’s secretariat was accustomed to passing on Seetahal’s new location to people who called Khan’s chamber seeking her. “We were very close. We’d visit her estate in Tamana and she would come to ours ... every Christmas, Divali, Eid, Emancipation, we’d lime. I was like a big brother to her,” Khan said.


“She served the administration of justice in every way, from Law Association president to authoring a textbook on criminal practice and procedure now used in all regional law schools. One of the last things she did last week was a plea-bargaining forum.” A wake was being held last night at the home of Seetahal’s parents, where one of her siblings lives. Her sister, Susan Francois, heads the Financial Intelligence Unit. Seetahal never married. 


Khan said, “The law was her husband and children, she gave her life to it and for it.” In 1990’s Fast Lane piece, Seetahal admitted to feeling somewhat helpless and disillusioned about some cases she saw then, saying, “It seems people only seem to listen when something drastic happens.” Clearly, someone must listen now.


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