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The trial of 12 men accused of murdering businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman took an unexpected turn yesterday with Justice Malcolm Holdip being forced to discharge a juror. Holdip did not reveal the reason for the decision during his brief address to the remaining jurors and alternates yesterday afternoon. However, he hinted at the cause while reiterating the pretrial directions he gave at the start of the trial in late March.
While discussing the purpose and role of attorneys’ objections and corresponding legal arguments that usually take place in the absence of the jury, Holdip said: “All I ask is that there be a measure of restraint when expressing how you may feel about having to go upstairs.” He advised that as the judge he had a duty to monitor their conduct in the courtroom but they were free to have their frank discussions in their deliberation room as the supervision of that area was not in his remit.
“I am not telling you to go upstairs and fight,” Holdip said jokingly. He said although he did not wish for them to be constantly asked to leave the court for the objections, such was customary in criminal trials. “Please recognise that this is part of what a trial entails. It is not like what you see on television,” Holdip said.
The issue with the juror was first raised last week during the cross-examination of the tenth witness in the trial, acting Cpl Bruce James, a police photographer who took photos of evidence collected during a police exercise in La Puerta, Diego Martin, almost a month after Naipaul-Coolman was abducted at her home in December 2006.
After discharging the juror and allowing one of the six alternates sitting on the trial to take his place on the 12-member jury, Holdip asked the group if they felt they could continue to sit on the trial in a fair manner in light of their colleague’s discharge. “Nobody has a problem, you can go on with the case as normal,” the jury foreman told the court after consulting with his fellow jurors. Holdip instructed the jury to refrain from drawing adverse conclusions from the decision on the juror’s discharge.
“Juror number two is no longer with us and the circumstances of why are not anything you have to be speculating about. It was a legal decision which the court had taken,” Holdip said. He then asked the jurors to be impartial, unbiased and to refrain from being prejudiced against the accused men and witnesses during the duration of the trial. “Your role is to be objective as humanly possible,” Holdip said. The trial continues this morning with the continued crossexamination of Cpl James.