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Tears for Dana

By Jada Loutoo Tuesday, May 6 2014

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Special security: Senior Counsels Gilbert Peterson and Israel Khan, prosecutors in the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman trial, arrive with Special Branch securi...
Special security: Senior Counsels Gilbert Peterson and Israel Khan, prosecutors in the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman trial, arrive with Special Branch securi...

IT was a brief but highly emotional sitting for the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder trial yesterday following the brutal assassination of co-lead prosecutor Dana Seetahal, SC, early Sunday morning.

Proceedings began just before 10.30 am, and lasted less than five minutes. It was a solemn and sombre atmosphere at the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, yesterday as colleagues of the late Senior Counsel spoke of her tragic death.

Lawyers, their eyes red with tears, greeted each other with forlorn smiles. Security around the courthouse was increased with heavily armed police officers stationed at the Pembroke Street side of the building.

Special Branch officers were assigned to presiding judge, Justice Malcolm Holdip while Senior Counsels Israel Khan and Gilbert Peterson also arrived at the Hall of Justice, accompanied by Special Branch officers.

Members of the media were debarred from entering the courtroom and were told by security guards posted outside the Second Criminal Court, where the trial is being heard, they were given orders by the marshals of the court and the police that reporters were not to enter.

Even as proceedings began in open court, reporters were still told they were not allowed in the courtroom.

Judiciary officials later explained there was some mis-communication and provided the media with a copy of the court transcript.

Tears began flowing in the Second Criminal Court when State Prosecutor Joy Balkaran gave the appearances for the prosecution team.

“May it please the court, appearances for the prosecution as before, please,” she began, and before she could continue, Balkaran broke down in sobs.

“Ms Seetahal is no longer with us,” she said, while trying to fight back more tears.

Defence counsel for each of the 12 accused announced their appearances, their voices full of emotion. Holdip told the jurors he would not be able to continue with the trial for the day because of Seetahal’s death. “The matter which is listed before us, Mr Foreman and members of the jury, I would not be able to continue with the matter this morning, and the reason I am unable to continue with the matter is a matter clearly of public information at this point in time,” he said.

“The prosecution in this matter, because of the turn of events, I am taking the initiative to understand that they would need some time to, in fact, reconstitute their position, their strategies, legal and otherwise, and I am almost quite sure that they would, in some way, be emotionally and psychologically traumatised by the state of affairs that they have also come to know, is in the public domain,” Holdip said.

“I am also of the opinion that no less so the members of the defence bar are equally in some way, touched and traumatised by the events, and I don’t think anyone of us have that sort of Spartan attitude that we would just pick up ourselves and continue in the light of what has happened,” he continued.

The judge proposed adjourning the case to May 12, since according to him having been informed that Seetahal’s funeral may be held on Thursday of this week, it would be a “futile exercise” to continue with the case for the week. The trial began in March and was expected to continue yesterday with testimony from two members of the Police Anti-Kidnapping Unit.

Holdip reminded jurors of his previous warning about speaking about the case with anyone.

Seetahal, 59, was executed by her assailants on Hamilton-Holder Street, Woodbrook, as she was driving home just after midnight as she made her way to her One Woodbrook Place home. The former senator 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.

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.

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