RENNIE COOLMAN has denied his murdered wife, Vindra Naipaul-Coolman, was worth more to him dead than she was alive.
He has also dismissed claims he deliberately gave her abductors time to escape with her from their home in Lange Park, Chaguanas, saying if he had approached the kidnappers, he would have been on “a suicide mission”.
Coolman faced his fourth day of intense cross-examination at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain yesterday, during the trial into his wife’s December 2006 kidnapping and subsequent murder.
During the hearing, Coolman was questioned by defence attorney Wayne Sturge on a number of issues, including his reasons for paying $75,000 to a woman who falsely claimed to be from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after he was informed he could be charged with the murder.
Another issue addressed by Sturge was Coolman’s “inheritance” of a house in Ontario, Canada, which he said he co-owned with Naipaul-Coolman and sold for CAN$342,000 (TT$2.06m) after her death.
On a number of occasions, Justice Malcolm Holdip had to ask the attorney to refrain from making statements after objections were raised by special State prosecutor Dana Seetahal SC to certain areas of his cross-examination.
As in previous days during his cross-examination, Coolman said he paid the $75,000 after being told by the woman he could be innocently charged with the murder.
He said despite not having a role to play in the crime, the “convincing” piece of information drove him into paying the money as he was fearful the police would manipulate charges against him.
He said he was aware of instances such as these, and although there was no evidence against him, Coolman said his fear was he would have been left in prison for years before the matter came up for hearing.
Questioned by Sturge on whether he had no faith in the judicial system, Coolman said it was not the judiciary he had an issue with but the way the police sometimes deal with certain issues.
“So you are aware of the police manipulating charges against people?” Sturge asked.
“Yes,” Coolman responded.
Coolman confessed even before he was approached by the woman and, also, before anyone had been charged in connection with the murder, he held conversations with officers of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT) who were investigating the kidnapping and he expressed concern he could be held culpable.
He said this was because of discussions that took place between some of his friends and family members, with the focus of those conversations being he could face criminal charges.
“There was word that I could be charged innocently,” said Coolman.
However, pressed further by Sturge, Coolman said he could not recall the name of any of his friends or relative who assumed that criminal charges could have been lain against him.
Sturge: I am putting it to you that you raised the issue because you had cocoa in the sun.
Sturge: Give us one name, just one.
Coolman: I do not recall who told me.
Sturge: You are in the habit of painting pretty pictures of things that don’t exist and telling lies. You said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper (in 2007) that the last year of life with your wife was the best, but you told (defence attorney) Mr (Mario) Merritt the last year of your wife’s life, you were in Canada.
Coolman: We kept in contact with each other. I visited several times and she came to Canada four times. We also kept in contact over the Internet and on Skype.
Sturge: Was it the best time of your life because you were away from her?
Coolman: I said it was the best time I spent with her.
Sturge: You would have been happy if she could have been away forever.
Coolman: That is not true.
On the issue of not rendering assistance to Naipaul-Coolman on the night of December 19, 2006, when she was snatched from her home, Coolman said he did not leave the safety of inside the house because he noticed the masked man who approached his wife’s vehicle in the driveway was armed.
Coolman said upon seeing this, he held on to the family’s live-in maid, Rasheedan Yacoob, who was also in the house, and went into the dining room and out of the gunman’s view.
He said this behaviour was based on a combination of instinct and “learned behaviour”.
Sturge: So your learned behaviour told you to save someone else but not your loving wife?
Coolman: At the time, I think my instinct and learned behaviour led me to the action that I had taken. If I had gone outside and approached the person with the gun, it would have been a suicide mission. I preferred that the police take the appropriate action thereafter.
Coolman agreed with Sturge that while giving evidence at the preliminary enquiry at the Port of Spain Magistrates’ Court, he never made mention of the abductor being armed. But in defence of not doing so, Coolman said the question was not asked of him by the prosecution during the enquiry.
He said had the abductor not been armed, there was a possibility he may have gone into the driveway and attempted to save his wife.
Asked why he did not attempt to contact the police through the emergency number 999, Coolman said at the time, it did not come to his mind as an option.
He said never in his adult life did he ever experience an emergency where he was required to call 999.
Coolman had previously testified that after his wife was approached, he heard three gunshots, followed by another three, before hearing Naipaul-Coolman scream and the sound of a vehicle driving off.
The incident, he said, lasted approximately five minutes before he called Naipaul-Coolman’s daughter Risha Ali, who was in the upstairs section of the house at the time, and asked her for a contact number for a friend of hers who was a police officer.
After calling the officer, Coolman said he was given a number by the man for the Anti-Kidnapping Squad (AKS), which he later called.
“You were not so mortified because you were able to think about the friend of your stepdaughter? Did you ever have cause to contact the Lange Park security?” Sturge asked.
“No,” Coolman replied.
“Isn’t it that you deliberately waited until they left to give the assailants time to get away?” asked the attorney.
“No, there was no deliberate motive,” said Coolman.
Coolman will return to the witness box on April 28 for the continuation of his cross-examination by other defence attorneys in the matter.
The case at a glance
• Israel Khan, SC
• Gilbert Peterson, SC
• Dana Seetahal, SC
• Joy Balkaran
• Kelly Thompson
• Wayne Sturge
• Mario Merritt
• Ulric Skerritt
• Kwesi Bekoe
• Selwyn Mohammed
• Colin Selvon
• Ian Brooks
• Richard Valere
• Joseph Pantor
• Lennox Sankarsingh
• Vince Charles
• Christian Chandler
• Delicia Helwig
• Alexia Romero
• Stacy Benjamin-Roach
• Nicholas Ali
• Stephen Wilson
• Thalia Francis-Brooks
• Shervon Noriega
• Lana Lakhan
• Clydene Crevelle
• Shervon Peters
• Keida Garcia
• Marlon Trimmingham
• Earl Trimmingham
• Ronald Armstrong
• Antonio Charles
• Joel Fraser
• Lyndon James
• Allan Martin
• Devon Peters
• Anthony Dwayne Gloster
• Jamille Garcia