THERE were moments of high tension during yesterday’s hearing of the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder trial at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, as the daughter of the murdered woman distanced herself from having any knowledge regarding the financial status of her stepfather and Naipaul-Coolman’s husband, Rennie Coolman.
This line of questioning was just one of several that resulted in Rishma Ali becoming visibly irritated as she was cross-examined by attorneys representing the 12 men accused of murdering her mother in December 2006.
She also denied claims by attorneys that she, at one point, engaged in several private dinners with her stepfather.
What started off as a calm recollection of what Ali said took place on the night Naipaul-Coolman was abducted from her home at Radix Road, Lange Park, Chaguanas, soon escalated into somewhat of a verbal stand-off between Ali and some defence attorneys.
Ali entered the witness box of the Second Criminal Court shortly before 10 a.m. and was led into giving her evidence-in-chief by senior counsel Israel Khan before Justice Malcolm Holdip and the 12-member jury and six alternates.
Ali said on December 19, 2006, she was at the Radix Road home where she lived with her three children, Naipaul-Coolman, Rennie Coolman and their live-in housekeeper, Rasheedan Yacoob. At that time, Ali had been living there for the past nine years, she said.
Ali said around 8.30 p.m. she was in her bedroom in the upstairs portion of the house, while Coolman and Yacoob were in the downstairs portion.
While in the bedroom, Ali said she was in the process of putting two of her children to sleep, when she noticed a flashing light on her wardrobe, indicating it was the headlight from her mother’s vehicle signalling she had arrived home.
“I was lying there and then I heard a loud bang, but I did not think anything of it because I assumed it was one of the kids that left their bike in the yard and she probably ran over it.
“I then heard arguing and that was when I looked out the window because it was not something normal that you would hear at our home,” said Ali.
She said upon looking out the window, she noticed there was a gold-coloured car parked behind her mother’s blue Kia SUV and she was able to see Naipaul-Coolman still sitting in the driver’s seat of the van with her head bent over.
Ali testified she saw a person standing at the driver-side window of the SUV and banging on the glass.
The person she said, was of slim-to-medium build, fully clothed in dark clothing and was wearing a mask over their face with a gun measuring approximately three feet in length in their hand. Given the long clothing and mask, Ali said she was unable to say whether the person was male or female.
“The person was banging on the window for a while before I heard gunshots. My bigger child who was three (years old) woke up and started to cry. I grabbed him and tried to keep him calm. I turned back to look and by that time the person had already taken her out of the vehicle.
“The person hit her on the left side of the cheek with the butt of the gun. At that point I was really scared and I ran to her bedroom and took up the phone to call the police,” Ali said.
She said she was unable to contact police as there was a constant busy tone on the line. It was at this point she decided to telephone her boyfriend, she said.
Following this, Ali said she remained standing in a corner of Naipaul-Coolman’s bedroom, as she was fearful that someone might come into the house to harm her or her children.
Defence attorney Kwesi Bekoe, in cross-examining Ali, asked if there were any arrangements for security officers to do patrols in the area where she lived, to which Ali responded, “Yes.”
Asked why she did not attempt to contact the security firm when she was unable to contact police, Ali said at the time she was in panic mode, and all she could have though of was calling the police.
In continuing his cross-examination, Bekoe questioned Ali on Rennie Coolman’s financial status at the time and his involvement (if any) in the management of money at Naipaul’s Xtra Foods, where Naipaul-Coolman was chief executive officer. It was at this point that Ali appeared to be becoming irritated with the questions.
Following is a review of some of the questions and answers exchanged between Ali and the attorney.
Bekoe: Are you aware if Rennie Coolman and Vindra Naipaul-Coolman had a joint (bank) account?
Ali: I am unable to say so.
Bekoe: Was he involved in the finances at Xtra Foods?
Ali: No, he was not. Not at Xtra Foods.
Bekoe: Are you aware of his financial status?
Bekoe: Did he ever have to secure funds from your mother?
Ali: I would not know.
Bekoe: Did you ever hear arguments taking place between the both of them?
Ali: Like any normal marriage, there were arguments. Maybe once or twice.
Bekoe: Arguments over finance?
Justice Holdip to Ali: Do not answer that question.
Bekoe’s cross-examination was followed by that of attorney Mario Merritt, who is representing two of the accused men. At one point, Ali told Merritt: “Look, I am not well, I am sick because I am pregnant so I do not want to go through this over and over.”
Merritt: Are you aware that your stepfather attempted to pay a bribe to (name called) for him to not be charged with this offence?
Justice Holdip ordered the jurors and Ali out of the courtroom at this point. Upon their return, Merritt continued.
Merritt: Are you aware that your stepfather attempted to pay a bribe to someone for him to not be charged with this offence?
Ali: I read about it in the newspaper.
Merritt: Do you know what amount he attempted to pay?
Merritt: Was your stepfather in debt?
Ali: I have no idea.
Merritt: Where was your stepfather employed? What did he do at the time?
Ali: He was a tutor at one of those universities. I do not know the name.
Merritt: You lived at that house for nine years and you had a normal relationship with him and you did not know where he was employed?
Ali: It was not my business. He was not minding me.
Merritt: Do you know if your stepfather had any involvement in the payment of a ransom?
Ali: I would not know.
The next attorney to cross-examine Ali was Ulric Skerritt.
Skerritt: After that day did you continue living at that address?
Ali: Yes, sir.
Skerritt: For how long?
Ali: About two years.
Skerritt: Did you ever have private dinners together?
Ali: No, sir.
Skerritt: You are telling me you never had private dinners together?
Ali: Why would we have private dinner? He is not my husband.
After further questioning by Skerritt, Ali said she remained in her mother’s bedroom after attempting to call police.
She said she remained standing in a corner, as she was scared, until Rennie Coolman walked into the room and told her: “Okay, you can leave now. They left with her.”
Also giving evidence yesterday was Rasheedan Yacoob. She said she had been employed as Naipaul-Coolman’s live-in housekeeper for 20 years prior to the abduction.
Yacoob said on the night of the kidnapping, she was in the living room of the downstairs portion of the house and when Naipaul-Coolman arrived, she (Yacoob) went to open the door to let her in, when she noticed someone in the yard.
“I saw someone standing by her van. I did not see his face, but he was tall. When I saw him, I screamed; and when he turned around, I saw a gun in his hand. I ran back inside and went behind the chair and sit down and started to scream and cry,” she said.
The State will be leading Rennie Coolman into giving his evidence-in-chief this morning.
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