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Was main witness a suspect?
The first hearing of the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder trial for the year was dominated by wrangling between a defence lawyer and a police officer over the procedure used to obtain statements from the State’s main witness against the 12 men on trial.
As the trial resumed in the Port-of-Spain Second Criminal Court yesterday after a three-week Christmas break, Wayne Sturge, who is representing two of the accused, questioned why statutory declarations were used to authenticate several statements which the witness Keon Gloster gave to investigators in mid-2007.
Sturge questioned whether Gloster was a suspect in the crime as he referred to the Police Service’s Standing Orders and the Judge’s Rules, which he said instructs police officers to use the declaration process for suspects only. In response, Insp Suzette Martin, the homicide detective who interviewed Gloster and prepared the statements, repeatedly stated that Gloster was not a suspect.
She also defended the use of the declaration as she claimed that guidelines on the procedure could be applied to normal witnesses depending on the specific circumstances in a case. Sturge then alleged that the procedure was specifically used in Naipaul-Coolman’s case to prevent Gloster from recanting on his statement, since he would be charged for perjury if he did. Martin denied this.
The exchange soon became heated as Sturge accused Martin of lying and she accused him of being disrespectful. Presiding Judge Malcolm Holdip had to intervene several times to pacify both parties to allow Martin’s cross-examination to continue before the 12-member jury and five alternates. Martin is the 50th witness to be called by State prosecutors since the trial began in March, last year.
Among those still to testify is Gloster, who lived near to the accused men and was allegedly present when the businesswoman was killed, and Assistant Commissioner of Police Nadhir Khan, who led the investigation into her kidnapping and eventual murder.
Naipaul-Coolman, the former CEO of her family’s supermarket chain Xtra Foods, was abducted in front of her home in Lange Park, Chaguanas, on December 16, 2006. A $122,000 ransom was paid by her family but she was not released and her body has never been found. State prosecutors have contended that the businesswoman was held captive in a house in Upper La Puerta, Diego Martin, frequented by the accused, before she was eventually killed, dismembered and buried in a shallow grave.
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.
Their legal team includes Ulric Skerritt, Joseph Pantor, Selwyn Mohamed, Lennox Sankersingh, Ian Brooks, Wayne Sturge, Mario Merritt, Richard Valere, Kwesi Bekoe, Colin Selvon, Vince Charles, Christian Chandler, Delicia Helwig and Alexia Romero. The prosecution team includes Senior Counsel Israel Khan and Gilbert Peterson who are being assisted by senior state prosecutors Joy Balkaran and Kelly Thompson.
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