By NALINEE SEELAL Monday, May 5 2014
AS PROMINENT Senior Counsel, Dana Seetahal, became a statistic in the country’s continuing grim murderous run yesterday, her assassination has triggered an emergency meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) for today and the posting of a million dollar reward for her killers, while police are reportedly examining video footage taken by someone who came close to the scene while the crime was in progress.
In addition to summoning the meeting of the NSC, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar revealed yesterday she had spoken with the Honourable Chief Justice Mr Justice Ivor Archie, and they have agreed to meet, “in order to devote attention to necessary reforms in the criminal justice system and security issues connected there with.” (SEE PAGE 5)
Sources have revealed the NSC meeting will take place at 3 pm today and the Commissioner of Police and heads of the Defence Force, the National Operations Centre (NOC) as well as the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) are to also make a presentation on an assessment of any levels of threat against the Prime Minister herself.
Seetahal, one of the lead prosecutors in the current Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder trial, was cut down by a hail of bullets — with police recovering some 15 spent shells at the crime scene — inside of her vehicle as she was driving home just after midnight yesterday from a lime at one of the city’s casinos.
The murder took place on Hamilton Holder Street in Woodbrook, a couple blocks away from the apartments at One Woodbrook Place where she lived. Newsday was reliably informed that someone caught the entire assassination on video and the recording has been handed over to senior police officers who are part of a high-powered team investigating Seetahal’s brutal execution.
The video footage is now in the possession of officers at the Homicide Investigations Bureau and is said to be a key piece of evidence to solve the murder. It is understood that investigators are also looking at footage from a CCTV camera which lay overhead the crime scene.
Seetahal, 59, had just left Ma Pau Casino in Woodbrook and appeared to be heading home when at 12.05 am, two vehicles — a panel van and a white station wagon — sandwiched her silver-coloured Volkswagen SUV (PCN 6) and opened fire, killing her instantly. She was the lone occupant and reports are that she was shot multiple times in the head and chest.
Police sources said Seetahal appeared to have been trying to reach into her purse where she kept her licenced firearm before being struck by the murderers’ bullets. Officers later recovered the attorney’s firearm in the purse. Nothing was taken from the SUV.
Residents who heard the rapid sound of gunfire alerted the police, and two officers who were on enquires in the area found the bullet-riddled vehicle with Seetahal slumped behind the steering wheel.
Crime scene and Homicide Investigations Bureau officers were called and the area was cordoned off. Police found over 15 spent shells of the high powered 5.56 calibre variety. Sources said this high-velocity bullet is of military grade and is used in a range of high-powered machine guns including the Galil (used by the TT Military), the AK 47 assault rifle and the AR15 combat rifle.
A resident told police he was just about to retire when he heard the sound of two vehicles driving at very fast speed and then the rapid gunfire. The man said he first thought the gunshots were firecrackers, but decided to look outside his window, and saw two vehicle speeding away.
He said a few minutes later he heard sirens blaring as police officers began to arrive at the crime scene.
“This thing happened so close to my house. I am still shaken up. Look at what is happening in this country today. Women and children are now the targets of cold blooded killers. We are not safe in our cars, we are not safe on the roads we are not even safe in our homes,” he said.
Seetahal’s sister and Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Susan Francois, and another male relative later arrived at the murder scene and both appeared to be in a daze. They were consoled by police and did not speak to reporters.
Head of the Homicide Investigations Bureau, ACP Wayne Dick, escorted District Medical Officer Akien Mootoo to the SUV to view Seetahal’s body. As the body was being taken to a hearse, weeping relatives gathered nearby and sought to console one another. Newsday understands that officers of the E-999 Centre received a first report from the area of shots being fired at about 12.05 am followed by three later calls between12.06 am and 12.10 am from other Woodbrook residents.
The callers claim they saw a light coloured panel van with heavy tint and a white Nissan Wingroad station wagon leaving the scene of the shooting and heading toward Wrightson Road.
Even ACP Dick himself appeared to be in shock at what transpired. “This is such a blatant disregard for law, order and morality. Yet still, I have hope that this country can change things around, can cause things to turn around and I say this in the context that this is the first time in history or in a very long time that such a homicide has taken place involving a senior counsel whose integrity is impeccable. She was a fearless attorney, whether prosecuting or defending.
“We are already utilising all resources so no one person will suffer burn-out during this probe, and there will be a continuous investigative drive. I am personally collaborating with other intelligence units to bring closure to this probe,” Dick said.
When contacted for comment yesterday, Israel Khan SC, who was a close associate of Seetahal and who is the lead prosecutor in the Naipaul Coolman murder trial which is supposed to resume today, appeared to be in tears.
“I knew Dana for many, many years. I am very saddened by her death,” he said as he paused to compose himself, adding, “I am sorry but I am not in a position to say anything else at this time.”
Police sources confirmed to Newsday that security has been intensified for key persons involved in the Naipaul Coolman trial including Khan, presiding judge, Justice Malcolm Holdip, and others.
Seetahal was one of several prominent persons whose name appeared on a hit list at the height of the Port-of-Spain bombings back in 2005. She also reported to police, death threats she had received during the Abu Bakr properties court proceedings. Seetahal’s murder is the 156th for the year.
Yesterday, Seetahal’s relatives went to the Forensic Science Centre where a preliminary examination of the slain attorney’s body was done. When relatives left the Centre two hours later a member of their party told the large pool of reporters gathered, “The family is very traumatised at this time and we will issue a statement later on.”
Newsday understands the body was formally identified and an initial autopsy was carried out to show the cause of death, but a more in-depth autopsy will be done to determine the exact number of times she was shot and which shot caused her death.
Dana Seetahal —
Dana S Seetahal was born on July 8, 1954 and was a former Independent Senator. She was one of only three women attorneys in active practice to have the distinction of Senior Counsel status (the others are Pamela Elder and Sophia Chote).
Seetahal was formerly a lecturer at the Hugh Wooding Law School and held the position of Course Director in Criminal Practice and Procedure.
She held a Bachelor of Laws from the University of the West Indies. She was first appointed to Parliament in April 2002 as an Independent Senator in the 7th Republican Parliament. She was again appointed an Independent Senator in the 8th and 9th Parliaments (October 2002 and December 2007). She was not re-appointed to the 10th Parliament.
In January 2006 she was made Senior Counsel. Her first contribution in the senate was The Appropriation Bill, 2003, which she introduced on October 28, 2002.
In 2008 she opened her own private chambers “El Dorado Chambers” located in Port-of-Spain.
Before being appointed as an Independent Senator, Seetahal also served as a State Prosecutor, Assistant Solicitor General and Magistrate. She wrote a weekly column for the Saturday Express and previously, wrote for the Trinidad Guardian.
She wrote a book, The Commonwealth Caribbean on Criminal Procedure. The last case she was working on was as lead prosecutor in the Vindra Naipaul Coolman Murder Trial which resumes today.