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Fear grips lawyers as Dana’s killing sinks in

Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Police stand guard at the corner of Pembroke and Knox Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, as part of the extra security measures put in place to protect state prosecutors involved in the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder trial in the wake of the murder of Dana Seetahal, SC, on the weekend. Inset: Israel Khan, SC, is escorted into court by a plain clothes officer. PHOTOS: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

The shocking and violent murder of prominent attorney Dana Seetahal, SC, has sent such shockwaves throughout the legal and judicial fraternity that many attorneys are now reeling with fear and paranoia. In fact the situation was so tense in the legal fraternity yesterday that the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder trial had to be postponed for a week as all those involved in it and other lawyers throughout the country could not carry on their business as usual and two organisations she was once part of during her distinguished career met to discuss the impact of her killing on the legal profession.


Hours earlier, security outside the Port-of-Spain High Court was increased ahead of the start of the Naipaul-Coolman case, the last official state duty Seetahal conducted before her killing.
But High Court Judge Malcolm Holdip opted to adjourn the trial for a week to allow attorneys involved an opportunity to grieve and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) time to decide how it will proceed with the case. Security at the Port-of-Spain High Court was almost double its normal strength yesterday, with heavily armed police officers being stationed at strategic locations around the Hall of Justice, while their colleagues and their security officer counterparts kept watch outside the courtroom. 
Senior Counsel Israel Khan and Gilbert Peterson, the two other senior lawyers making up the three-member special prosecution team for the high profile trial, were both escorted to and from the court by plain-clothed police officers. 


Continue legacy
The joint meeting of the Law Association, which Seetahal led during her career, and the Criminal Bar Association was held at the Law Association’s office at Abercromby Street, Port-of Spain, yesterday. In a news release issued after, the associations’ presidents—Seenath Jairam, SC, and Pamela Elder, SC—both sought to alleviate the security fears of their members, while encouraging them to continue to work “fearlessly” in the execution of their duties. “We must not be daunted by the circumstances of the demise of Dana Seetahal, SC, but rather, continue her legacy of independence, courage, and formidable advocacy,” the release said. 

The organisation also encouraged its members and the public to assist and support the T&T Police Service in the its continued investigation into the murder. “We jointly express our horror at the lawlessness and violence which continues to plague our society but remain resolute in our determination to ensure the implementation of measures to curb the scourge of crime,” the release said. 


No motive established
Yesterday evening, as Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced an increase in the reward for information and prosecution in the case to $2.5 million, senior police sources said they had not established a clear motive for Seetahal’s murder and were still keeping an open mind and exploring “all possibilities.”Among the motives being considered by investigators is the obvious link to the Naipaul-Coolman trial, as well as a theory that it was orchestrated by a convicted prisoner who was prosecuted in the past by Seetahal.


According to reports, shortly before midnight Saturday, Seetahal left the Ma Pau casino car park at French Street, Woodbrook, on her way to her apartment at One Woodbrook Place. 
About ten minutes later, as she was near to the Woodbrook Youth Facility, O’Connor Street, she was ambushed by a group of gunmen who shot her five times through the window of her light blue Volkswagen Touareg. Sources said the special investigation team, assembled by acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams and led by the head of the Homicide Bureau ACP Wayne Dick, have already obtained CCTV footage from the casino, along the route Seetahal used, as well as from businesses along the route and near to the scene of the shooting. The video footage, police said, would aid in identifying the vehicles used by Seetahal’s attackers as well as some of their features or identities. 


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