The crime scene where Dana Seetahal was murdered in her vehicle. Photo: Trinidad Express
By Marcia Braveboy
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is once again talking tough about bringing criminals to justice for the heinous crimes they commit.
This time she was referring to the brutal killing of former independent senator and prominent senior counsel Dana Seetahal.
“It is a reprehensible act which has robbed us all of one of our nation's best and brightest daughters,” the prime minister said in a news release on Sunday.
Persad-Bissessar, who is herself an attorney-at-law and senior counsel, said it is with profound sadness that she learned of the tragic death of her “dear friend and colleague senior counsel Dana Seetahal”.
Dana Seetahal SC. Photo: Trinidad Guardian
According to police, Seetahal was killed in execution style by hit men with powerful rifles who pumped 12 bullets into her Volkswagen SUV.
In what resembled a Hollywood crime movie, police reports said the men moved in two vehicles, and had been following Seetahal since she left a local casino and followed her to an apparently ideal spot to take her out. Residents who saw what happened said one of the vehicles sped ahead of Seetahal, causing her to stop; while the other pulled up alongside her. The occupants fired 12 bullets into Seetahal’s vehicle, hitting her in the head and body; she died on the spot.
National security minister Gary Griffith described the killing as a “well orchestrated hit” that left the country and the region poorer for it. He vowed to throw every resource behind apprehending Seetahal’s killers. He said he told the acting commissioner of police Stephen Williams to put all the resources available to him into solving what is no doubt considered a high profile crime.
"We will not rest until those who have committed this most unspeakable act are brought to justice," Griffith said in a statement.
The prime minister said Seetahal was an attorney who diligently sought justice and she would match her approach in seeking justice for her brutal slaying.
“As prime minister, I am resolutely committed to meeting the viciousness with which Dana Seetahal's brilliant life was cut down on the terms she would have wanted and fought so courageously and fearlessly for every day.
“There is an abyss of loss and sadness for this brutal removal of a sister, friend, legal luminary and fearless, independent thinker on national issues,” Persad-Bissessar said.
Seetahal would have sought justice without compromise; she would have “made her tragedy an impetus and symbol for sweeping changes” and would have fought her last breath ensuring justice was served, Persad-Bissessar noted.
The prime minister called on all citizens to preserve Seetahal’s legacy and prime minister disclosed that she has convened an emergency meeting of the national Security Council, which she heads.
“This outrageous act of brutality cannot be concluded by mere expressions of regret and sympathy. I have enjoined with the minister of national security to ensure that every resource of the law enforcement machinery of the state is utilised in relentless pursuit of apprehending those involved in this most dastardly and heinous act,” she added.
Local television and radio talk shows were flooded with callers expressing shock and horror at the murder.
Condolences to the family on the passing of the senior counsel were also expressed by many, including the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago of which Seetahal was a former president. The association called for a speedy and thorough investigation into her murder.
“The Law Association mourns the tragic and violent death of Ms Dana Seetahal SC, former president of the Law Association, who was killed this morning and extends its deepest condolences to her family.
“Ms Seetahal SC has contributed significantly to the development of the criminal law, practice and procedure. She was a distinguished senior member of the legal profession.
“She served as a magistrate, state prosecutor, independent senator and defence attorney at law as well as a long standing criminal law lecturer at the Hugh Wooding Law School. Ms Seetahal SC epitomised fearlessness, integrity and independence and was a champion of reform of the criminal justice system.
“The Association is concerned about the level of crime and strongly condemns the murder of Ms Seetahal SC and calls for a speedy and thorough investigation into the matter by the police.”
President of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CCIC), Richie Sookhai, said the killing is consistent with the dissatisfaction that the nation feels about the crime situation in the country.
"This gruesome and premeditated killing underscores the unsatisfactory state of crime in Trinidad and Tobago. If ever there was a singular event to propel the forces that be into concerted action against criminal elements, this is it."
The CCIC wants to see government and the police service intensify their efforts in fighting crime by increasing patrols in high crime areas.
Crime Stoppers are offering TT$1 million (US$155,000) to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of Seetahal’s killers.
Acting commissioner of police Stephen Williams said this killing left him in shock.
"It's shocking! Crime is a concern especially violent crime; it's a shocking incident, one you least expect. I had a conversation with her at around 12.45 pm on Saturday and everything was fine. We need to work as a country together,” Williams told the media.
Attorney Larry Lalla told TV6’s Dominic Kalipersad on a special broadcast on that station on Sunday morning, which covered the murder of Seetahal, that the senior counsel was a wonderful human being and her killing sends a signal that it cannot be business as usual. Lalla recommended that changes be made to the criminal justice system, especially through the office of the director of public prosecutions to close up the holes in the system that has criminals running amok and making a fool of the law as it presently is.
In her statement, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar also sounded the alarm on this matter and said she has already spoken to chief justice Ivor Archie to discuss reform and security issues connected to the needed reforms.
“Yet, further I have spoken with the Honourable Chief Justice Mr Ivor Archie and we have agreed to meet in order to devote urgent attention to necessary reforms in the criminal justice system and security issues connected therewith,” she said.
Seetahal was a former independent senator, a temporary magistrate, president of the law association, state prosecutor and assistant solicitor general.
She was also a Fulbright scholar and lecturer at the Hugh Wooding Law School, where the prime minister said she “became a guiding light to many young graduates”.
Recognising Seetahal’s parliamentary representation as an independent senator, Persad-Bissessar said she demonstrated the highest principles and values of independent thinking as a senator.
“She earned a sterling reputation as a leading opinion maker on national issues of law, constitution and criminal justice.
“For the role she played in Parliamentary, legal and indeed national leadership, Dana will always be remembered fondly. We have lost someone who never allowed herself to be defined by the change she advocated, and whose courage and boldness will always stand as an inspiration for today’s and tomorrow’s legal professionals,” she said.
The high-profile assassination is not without precedent. In 1995, former attorney general Selwyn Richardson was assassinated by unknown assailants
as he was entering his driveway at the end of his working day.