Detective recounts finding body in suitcase

Neesa Gopaul murder trial

– says top of head was missing

Lance Corporal Germaine Laundry yesterday recounted discovering 16-year-old Neesa Gopaul’s corpse, from which the entire top part of the head was missing.

Laundry was testifying before Justice Navindra Singh and a 12-member jury at the trial of Bibi Sharima-Gopaul, the teen’s mother and her stepfather, Jarvis Small, who are accused of the murder. They are accused of killing the teenager between September 24, 2010, and October 2, 2010, at Madewini, Linden-Soesdyke Highway.

Laundry, who was attached to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Timehri Police Station in October, 2010, testified about receiving certain information on October 2 from an unknown caller, which led him and a party of policemen to travel to the Emerald Tower Resort at Madewini, Linden-Soesdyke Highway.

Neesa Gopaul
Neesa Gopaul

He said when he got to the resort, which is located about two miles from the highway, he saw a main building and about 30 feet away there was a creek which runs from north to south. On the south-eastern side in the creek, he recalled seeing a black suitcase that was partly submerged. He said it was tied with a red rope, which was further tied to what was later discovered to be two dumbbells under the water.

Laundry said he was able to free the suitcase by cutting the rope that was fastened to the weights.

He said after going into the water, he observed what appeared to be a human hand partly protruding through a 16-inch opening from the zipper of the suitcase. He said with the assistance of other ranks, he pushed the suitcase to the corner and pulled it out of the water and, upon opening it, discovered the remains of a female.

Laundry had said that the head of the corpse was bashed-in. Bernard De Santos SC, one of the attorneys representing Small, however, objected to the use of the term “bashed-in,” while contending that he did not think that the witness was in a position to use the term.

State Prosecutor Diana Kaulesar then enquired if the phrase “appeared to be bashed-in,” would be more appropriate but De Santos contended that “even that is objectionable.”

Justice Singh then asked Laundry to describe what he meant by “bashed-in,” after which the witness said the entire top part of the head was missing, leaving only the outline of the cheek-bone.

He further testified that the body was clad in a multi-coloured top and dark-coloured pants. He noted that Constable Leon George photographed the discovery and in his presence also, Police Corporal Floyd Hosannah examined the body and in conducting further searches, found a black gown and sheet in the suitcase.

The court heard that in a compartment of the suitcase Hosannah found a piece of red rope, a Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) early savers card, a GBTI bankbook and a Guyana Passport, all bearing the name Neesa Lolita Gopaul.

He said Hosannah took possession of the items, which were later lodged, while he took possession of the suitcase, dumbbells, sheet and gown, which he lodged with the subordinate officer in-charge at the Timehri Police Station for safekeeping.

The court heard that the men then escorted the body to the Lyken Funeral Home.

Laundry said two days later, on October 4, 2010, at about 2 pm, he and other ranks made a second visit to the scene and it was at that point that he discovered that it was dumbbells which had anchored the suitcase in the water. The witness said that he took the weights to the Ruimveldt Station, where he marked them with his initials for identification purposes.

The court further heard from Laundry that on October 6, 2010, he witnessed the post-mortem examination, which was performed by Dr Nehaul Singh at the Georgetown Public Hospital. The teen was subsequently laid to rest at the Leonora Muslim Cemetery.

After Laundry identified the items as the ones he said he lodged, as well as the weights and post-mortem report, and with no objections from the defence, they were all tendered and marked as exhibits in the trial.

As each of the items were being shown to the court and tendered as evidence, the young girl’s mother silently wept, while a pensive Small kept his eyes fixed on each item.

During cross-examination by attorney Glenn Hanoman, Laundry said he had been a policeman for the past 16 years, 14 of which he has been a detective.

Laundry disagreed with a suggestion by Hanoman that he had written several statements during his investigation to represent important developments in the case and had later sought to reduce them into one, which he submitted in the police file.

Hanoman put it to Laundry that the accused had been arrested even before the weights had been discovered but Laundry said he was not aware of when the defendants were arrested in relation to the discovery of the weights. He also denied Hanoman’s suggestion that it was he and police who had planted the weights at the scene.

In response to Hanoman’s question as to why he did not investigate to find out that it was weights which anchored the suitcase in the water and remove them on his first visit to the scene, Laundry said he tried but failed and did not ask the other ranks there for assistance as he did not know if they would have been able to assist him. He said that on his first visit to the scene, the water level was chest-high and he did not know in advance that it would have been lower by his second visit on October 4.

He said that after retrieving the weights, he took them to the Ruimveldt Station but only lodged them about three hours after since he was waiting for them to dry to place his markings. He disagreed with Hanoman’s suggestion that the weights would have had ample time to dry out while they were being transported from the scene to the station in the tray of the police vehicle.

Laundry’s explanation for not going back to the scene the following day after his first visit— because there was no transportation to take him there—caused members of the defence to chuckle.

Asked whether he had done finger-printing analysis on the dumbbells, Laundry answered in the negative, explaining that fingerprints cannot be lifted from such objects after retrieving them from water. Hanoman disputed this contention but Laundry held firm to his position.

In his cross-examination, attorney George Thomas, who represents Sharima-Gopaul, pointed out to Laundry that while he had told the court that the weights were red and black, in his statement he had said there was also white paint on them. Laundry said he could not recall and after being shown his statement to refresh his memory, he told counsel he did not understand the question he was being asked. After repeating himself in creole and ordering the witness to read the portion from his statement about the “white paint,” Laundry then agreed with Thomas that he had indeed spoken about white paint.

He agreed with Thomas that dumbbells have a distinct shape but said that he is “not familiar with dumbbells,” when asked if he had used his feet to feel the object at the bottom of the water as he was unable to see into the water.

Laundry ended his testimony when the foreman enquired whether he knew of other persons living in the area and whether he made attempts to interview them regarding the case. The judge had the same question also. Laundry said he saw at least one set of persons residing at the entrance of the trail leading into the resort. He, however, said he did not question the persons since they reside far away from the scene.

Justice Singh finally enquired from him whether rigor mortis had already set in on the body and Laundry said no but indicated that the skin had started to peel off.

Meanwhile, Police Corporal Hosannah, who is stationed at the CID, Eve Leary and attached to the Crime Scene Unit, began his testimony yesterday. He will resume when the trial continues today at 9 am.

Small is represented by a team of four lawyers: Hanoman, De Santos, Lyndon Amsterdam and Zanna Frank.

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