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Trial resumes in Seetahal’s absence

Monday, May 12, 2014

As the nation continued to mourn the death of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal a week after she was brutally murdered, the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder trial, her last case, resumed yesterday in her absence. There was much speculation by attorneys and reporters at the Hall of Justice, Knox Street, Port-of-Spain over the status of the trial yesterday. It was adjourned last Monday, the day after Seetahal was ambushed and shot dead while returning home from a Woodbrook casino. When it eventually kicked off before Justice Malcolm Holdip, attorney Gilbert Peterson, SC, one of leading members of the State’s special prosecution team, picked up where Seetahal, who had led the evidence of most witnesses so far, left off and began to present the evidence of a police officer. 


The only mention of Seetahal and the circumstances of her death was when senior state prosecutor Joy Balkaran announced the appearances of the prosecution team. She said: “As indicated by the State on the last occasion, Miss Seetahal will be no longer with us, as she was murdered on May 4.” There was also no indication whether Director of Public Prosecutors (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, had decided whether to replace Seetahal or whether the case would proceed with the remaining prosecution team. During yesterday’s hearing, Cpl Peter Francis, a crime scene investigator and fingerprint expert, testified that on December 19, 2006, he assisted in processing the crime scene of Naipaul-Coolman’s abduction. Francis said he was on duty at the Chaguanas Police Station that night when he was summoned to the businesswoman’s Radix Road, Lange Park, Chaguanas, home to collect evidence. 

He said after surveying the scene he began to collect items of evidential value, including five 9 mm shell casings, the fragments of two bullets, a pair of dentures and reading glasses. Francis also said that while searching in and around Naipaul-Coolman’s SUV, he saw a puddle of blood near the driver’s door, of which he took a sample. He said he found and lifted several fingerprints off the door of Naipaul-Coolman’s vehicle, but the samples were not sufficiently detailed to allow for identification. “In the science of fingerprints there must be certain ridge details in order to certify it for identification,” Francis explained. He said he then took the items to the Forensic Science Centre in St James and submitted them for ballistic and forensic testing. He presented three certificates from the centre in which forensic experts there detailed the findings of their tests. 


The reports were eventually presented to the 12-member jury and six alternates for them to consider as they were read out by two of Holdip’s judicial support officers. In one of the reports, a firearm and tool mark examiner at the centre, Robert Harvey, suggested that two guns were fired at the scene, as the markings on three of the shell casing were characteristic of ammunition fired by an Israeli-made Uzi sub machine gun, while the two others resembled ammunition fired from a handgun. Harvey, in a later report, showed two of the spent shells matched a Glock gun police found in the course of their investigation and later submitted to the centre for comparison. 

While details of how the gun came into police custody were not revealed in yesterday’s hearing, lead prosecutor Israel Khan, in his opening address to the jury in late March, had said it was found in the home of one of the accused men. The third certificate dealt with the blood found on the scene. It indicated the sample was human blood, but there were issues in determining the type. Yesterday’s hearing ended with the presentation of the certificate, as there were not enough latex gloves to allow jurors and attorneys to examine the exhibits Francis brought to court. 
Defence attorneys are expected to begin their cross-examination of him this morning.


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. 


Legal Team: 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.


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