RENNIE COOLMAN, the widower of murdered businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman, admitted yesterday he failed to assist his wife, even though she was in need of help after being confronted by kidnappers at her Lange Park, Chaguanas, home in December 2006.
And although he heard a total of six gunshots and his wife’s screams, Coolman said he did not immediately call police, but only did so after the kidnappers had left with her.
He made the admission while giving his evidence-in-chief and during cross-examination at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain before Justice Malcolm Holdip, at the continuation of the trial into Naipaul-Coolman’s murder, for which 12 men are charged.
Questioned by defence attorney Kwesi Bekoe, Coolman said he made no attempt to immediately contact police, given the fearsome experience of witnessing his wife being accosted by armed kidnappers.
Asked if he tried to prevent the kidnappers from making off with Naipaul-Coolman by using the remote to close the electronic front gate leading into the yard, Coolman explained the car used by the abductors was parked in such a manner that the gate could not close.
Bekoe: So you would have had good reasons to not close the gate or call 999?
Coolman: I said there was a reason, I didn’t say it was a good reason. My first concern was to call the Anti-Kidnapping Squad.
Bekoe: Was your wife in need of help?
Coolman: You can say that.
Bekoe: Did you help her or did you run and hide?
Coolman: I did not run and hide. I moved away from the door and the sight of the gunman.
Bekoe: You made no attempt to render assistance to your wife. Correct?
Coolman: That is correct. Yes.
The attorney also asked Coolman if he ever had any fear police could charge him with his wife’s kidnapping, to which Coolman said “No”.
Bekoe continued, “Did you ever pay any money or anything to someone who represented themselves to be from the DPP’s (Director of Public Prosecutions) office?”
This question was met with an objection by special State prosecutor Dana Seetahal SC after which the judge directed Coolman and the jury out of the courtroom.
Prior to these lines of questioning, Coolman, who was led in giving evidence by Seetahal, said the last time he saw his wife was on the morning of December 19, 2006, when he left home around 8 a.m. to go to work.
He gave a detailed description of events before, during and after his wife’s abduction.
Coolman said on the day of the kidnapping, Naipaul-Coolman informed her family via phone that she would be arriving home around 8 p.m. Around 8.25 p.m., Coolman said his wife pulled into the driveway of their Radix Road home in his vehicle that she had used that day.
At the time of her arrival, Coolman said he was in the living room of the downstairs portion of the house, having dinner. Also in the living room at the time was the family’s live-in housekeeper, Rasheedan Yacoob.
He said when his wife pulled into the driveway, Yacoob approached the front door and was about to open the burglar-proofing to allow Naipaul-Coolman into the house but, instead, Yacoob started to scream.
“She turned to me and screamed, and I put my food on the table and I went to her by the burglar-proofing. I looked outside and saw a person with a black ski-mask over his head, with a gun in his hand, on the passenger side of the vehicle. I moved away from the door and went into the dining room area.
“I heard three rapid gunshots. I was shocked and very scared so I remained where I was and I heard Vindra scream. Then I heard three more gunshots and a vehicle drive away,” said Coolman.
He said the entire incident lasted approximately five minutes.
Following this, Coolman said he went into the kitchen and looked through the window, but all he saw was the vehicle Naipaul-Coolman used that day.
“I then called Rishma (Naipaul-Coolman’s daughter) who was upstairs and asked her for a phone number of a friend who is a police. He lives somewhere in Chaguanas. I called the Anti-Kidnapping Squad and I also called the home of Ryan Naipaul, who is Vindra’s older brother,” said Coolman.
The police, he said, arrived on the scene within ten to 15 minutes after they were contacted.
Coolman said the next day, officers installed voice-recording devices on the telephone lines to record any conversation that took place.
He said, on December 24, around 9 p.m., there was a call to the cellular phone belonging to Anand Naipaul. Anand was one of Naipaul-Coolman’s brothers, who was also the co-owner of Naipaul’s Xtra Foods, along with his father, said Coolman.
“I was at home with Ryan and two officers from the Anti-Kidnapping Squad and one officer from SAUTT (Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago). Ryan answered and the call was registered as coming from Vindra’s mobile phone,” he said.
Coolman pointed out an arrangement had been made for Ryan to answer the calls and pretend he was Rennie Coolman.
When Ryan answered the call, he told the caller: “This is Rennie Coolman, husband of Vindra Naipaul,” said Coolman.
He said the caller hesitated and asked to speak to Anand, but Ryan informed the caller that Anand had forgotten the phone at Naipaul-Coolman’s home.
“The caller continued to insist. Ryan said before any further conversations, he wanted to speak with Vindra to make sure she was alive. The caller said he couldn’t do that and agreed to take a question,” said Coolman.
The question he said was: “What is the house number where Riaz lives?” Riaz, he explained, is his son who lives abroad.
Coolman said, around 2 a.m. the next day, the caller again called Anand’s phone, which was again answered by Ryan, pretending to be Coolman.
“The caller gave the full address and asked if you wanted more. Ryan said, ‘Yes, provide it.’ He gave the date we got married and where we went on our honeymoon,” said Coolman.
The caller made other calls, asking to speak with Anand after refusing to negotiate a ransom with Ryan, whom he believed was Rennie Coolman.
In late January or early February 2007, Coolman said another call was received, during which Ryan made a request to speak with Vindra.
The caller agreed to have Naipaul-Coolman speak on the phone but hung up before calling back approximately three hours later, said Coolman.
“I heard a voice sounding like Vindra’s. Ryan said: ‘Vindra ,Vindra, this is Rennie. Are you okay?’ The caller then hung up. The caller called back and the voice said: ‘This is Vindra Naipaul-Coolman. I am injured.’”
Coolman added that following this, Ryan informed the caller he did not believe it was Naipaul-Coolman on the line and the voice sounded like a recording.
He said following this, the caller hung up and never again made contact with the family.
Coolman will continue to be cross-examined on Monday.
The case at a glance
• Israel Khan, SC
• Gilbert Peterson, SC
• Dana Seetahal, SC
• Joy Balkaran
• Kelly Thompson
• Wayne Sturge
• Ulric Skerritt
• Mario Merritt
• Selwyn Mohammed
• Colin Selvon
• Ian Brooks
• Joseph Pantor
• Lennox Sankersingh
• Richard Valere
• Kwesi Bekoe
• Christian Chandler
• Vince Charles
• Delicia Helwig
• Alexia Romero
• Nicholas Ali
• Stacy Benjamin-Roach
• Lana Lakhan
• Allan Martin
• Shervon Peters
• Keida Garcia
• Marlon Trimmingham
• Earl Trimmingham
• Ronald Armstrong
• Antonio Charles
• Joel Fraser
• Lyndon James
• Devon Peters
• Anthony Dwayne Gloster
• Jamille Garcia