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Case of tainted exhibit
The testimony of one of the state’s main witnesses against 12 men accused of murdering Vindra Naipaul-Coolman has been clouded by allegations of evidence contamination and police misconduct. The accusations were made yesterday by defence attorney Mario Merritt as he cross-examined Cpl Darryl Hunte, the homicide detective, who claimed he found a loaded gun at the home of one of the accused, which was eventually matched with spent shells found at the scene of the businesswoman’s kidnapping.
In his evidence, Hunte said he found a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and six rounds of ammunition in the home of Keida Garcia during a raid at Upper La Puerta, Diego Martin, three weeks after Naipaul-Coolman was abducted in front of her Chaguanas home on December 19, 2006. The gun was later examined at the Forensic Science Centre in St James. Ballistic experts fired two shots from the six live rounds recovered and matched them to the shells recovered from the crime scene.
Prosecutors, defence attorneys and even Hunte, himself, were left in shock when the sealed exhibit was opened in court yesterday, and five live rounds and three spent shells were found instead of the four live rounds and two spent shells. “Is there some magician in the property room who does something like that?” Merritt asked as he questioned the unexplained presence of the extra round of ammunition.
With a confused look etched across his face, Hunte said he could not explain the discrepancy. The issue was also not addressed by prosecutors during yesterday’s hearing. Merritt then turned to Hunte’s evidence on where and how the gun and a quantity of marijuana were found in Garcia’s 10-foot by 10-foot bedroom. The lawyer requested that a video recorded by police during the raid be shown to the 12-member jury and five alternates.
Whereas Hunte said he had found the marijuana lying on Garcia’s bed and the gun in a corner of the room, Merritt pointed out that the video showed that the drug was found in a cupboard. Asked to respond, Hunte maintained his version and said he could give no explanation as he was not present when the video was recorded. The tension between the lawyer and witness increased significantly when Merritt referred to an unrelated drug trafficking case from 2007, in which Hunte was the lead investigator.
Merritt referred to a newspaper article which stated that the case had to be discontinued by the Director of Public Prosecutions on the eve of the trial after Hunte admitted to fabricating evidence. Hunte denied the allegation against him, saying, “I don’t believe anything I read in the papers.” Even as Merritt, who was also involved in that case as a defence attorney, probed further, Hunte repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
“Whoever told you that must be dreaming,” Hunte said. Hunte’s cross-examination will continue when the trial resumes this morning.
Who’s in court
The 12 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 arising from sickle cell anaemia.
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. 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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