MURDERED: Businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman who was kidnapped and murdered. Her body has never been found. File photo
SHERVON PETERS, one of the nine men who were collectively awarded just over $20 million, after suing the State for malicious prosecution in the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman murder case, has said the judgment can’t compensate for the years he and his former co-accused spent in prison.
In a WhatsApp call with Newsday on Tuesday, Peters said the main issue was highlighting the deplorable conditions in prison for those accused of crimes and not yet convicted.
“Twenty million dollars between nine men is no setta money. That can’t compare to what we went through.
“The money is not the issue yuh know. This judgment will show how the State is delaying cases and the effect it has on prisoners.”
High Court Master Martha Alexander on Monday awarded a total of $19,168,917.56 for malicious prosecution and exemplary damages, along with $200,917.56 in legal fees, and $68,000 for an expert witness.
She also ordered that interest be added to the damages for each man, at a rate of 2.5 per cent, from May 29, 2020 – when the claim was filed – to January 30. The sum amounts to more than $20 million.
Peters, his brother Devon, Anthony Gloster, Joel Fraser, Ronald Armstrong, Keida Garcia, Jameel Garcia, Marlon Trimmingham and Antonio Charles were among 12 men who went on trial in 2016 for Naipaul-Coolman’s murder. The men were all from Upper La Puerta, Diego Martin.
Two other men – Earl “Bobo” Trimmingham and Lyndon “Iron” James – were ordered to be re-tried.
Allan “Scanny” Martin, who was also on trial, was killed in 2016, minutes after he and two others shot their way out of the Port of Spain prison. In October 2021, Gloster was killed in a drive-by shooting in Diego Martin.
The State failed to put up a defence against the claim, which acting Attorney General Stuart Young said will be investigated.
The nine were represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Renuka Rambhajan, Ganesh Saroop and Natasha Bisram.
Attorney Anand Ramlogan, SC, who represented the men accused of murdering businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman. File photo
In July 2021, Justice Joan Charles entered judgment in favour of the men and sent the matter to a master for assessment. During the assessment their attorneys called clinical psychologist Isolde Ali Ghent-Garcia who, as their expert witness, testified to the mental anguish the men suffered while in custody.
She testified that the prison conditions included overcrowding, poor ventilation, poor lighting, poor diet, inhumane prison transport, lack of airing, poor sleeping conditions, lack of medical attention and unsanitary cells.
Peters told Newsday on Tuesday that while in prison, he lost everything including his wife and home.
He said his wife got tired of waiting for him to be released and decided to move on with her life. This, he said, was very embarrassing. His home was sold in order to pay his legal fees.
“You supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, right? Well they treated us like we were guilty and had to be proven innocent. Can you imagine you in a cell and hearing prison officers allowing a man to get raped and you don’t know if the next night, it will be you?”
Peters said with seven men to a cell, his fellow inmates would defecate on old newspapers at his feet and throw it in the hallway to be swept away the next morning.
There are other men from depressed communities facing a similar situation, he said, with prison conditions meaning inmates are treated worse than animals.
“Most of the men who were freed, they are unemployed now. They went in prison good and came out ‘strange.’ I was in jail from 2007 to 2016 and that was torment and torture. That was a living hell. You asking me about money? No amount can ever compensate for that, for what I went through inside. It could be $10 million..it could could never compensate.”
Peters said his experience left him broken, not only financially but mentally and only now, “I am climbing back up the ladder.” He said he has a small business and he and his ex-wife are now friends.
After being charged with murdering Naipaul-Coolman, Peters said he did some research on her and learned “she was an angel.”
“I sympathised with the loss, a life is a life. I hope they (Naipaul-Coolman’s family) get closure. I am a human and God is the last judge, there were some strange things coming out of that case, that is all I will say on that.”
When contacted on Tuesday, Rennie Coolman, Naipaul-Coolman’s widower said he did not want to comment on the matter.
Naipaul-Coolman, owner of Naipaul’s Supermarket, was kidnapped from her Lange Park, Chaguanas home on the night of December 19, 2006. Her body, which is believed to have been chopped up, buried, exhumed and thrown in the sea, has never been found.