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Indonesia: No sign of cyanide poisoning, expert says

Jessica Kumala Wongso
Jessica Kumala Wongso
The courtroom drama over the premeditated murder of Wayan Mirna Salihin implicating Jessica Kumala Wongso has taken an unexpected turn as an expert witness with the defense team delivered a contrasting testimony saying that Mirna had not shown any indications of cyanide poisoning.

Beng Beng Ong, an expert in pathology from the University of Queensland, told the court on Monday that the clinical symptoms of cyanide poisoning, including nausea, respiratory difficulties and seizures, would arise roughly 30 minutes after the consumption of cyanide, suggesting that this did not fit with the prosecution's claim that Mirna fell unconscious just few minutes after she took a sip of supposedly cyanide-laced iced coffee.

In a courtroom packed with reporters and spectators and aired by private television stations, the Australian expert implied that there was no solid proof that Mirna's was killed by sodium cyanide found in her stomach, a claim that is a fundamental part of the prosecution's case.

"As the symptoms appeared faster than they should have, I do not suspect that it was cyanide. I will even consider other causes including natural diseases,' Beng said at the Central Jakarta District Court.

Jessica has been charged with the murder of Mirna by lacing the Vietnamese iced coffee she ordered for Mirna with cyanide.

The permanent resident of Australia is being charged under Article 340 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) on premeditated murder. She could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Mirna died on Jan. 6 after taking a sip from a Vietnamese iced coffee ordered by Jessica at a gathering that was arranged by the defendant at a cafe in Central Jakarta.

From the first day of investigation, the police seemed certain that Jessica had deliberately poured sodium cyanide into the iced coffee. However, no direct witnesses have ever been able to confirm the accusation.

From July 12, prosecutors have presented Mirna's relatives, employees of the cafe, law experts, doctors, toxicologists, digital forensics experts and psychologists before the court, certain that their combined testimony would close any path to freedom for Jessica.

During the trial, the court was told by a forensics doctor presented by the prosecution that Mirna's death was caused by cyanide poisoning.

Slamet from the Bhayangkara National Police Hospital said Mirna seemed to be "waggling" her hands after sipping the coffee as the cyanide cause a burning sensation on the tongue.

Based on a toxicology report, 297.6 milligrams of sodium cyanide was consumed by Mirna. It is thought that 171.4 milligrams constitutes a lethal dose for someone of Mirna's weight.

This conclusion was labeled weak and unreliable by the defense team as no autopsy was in fact carried out on Mirna's body.

With the help of a translator besides him, Ong said on Monday that because no autopsy had been performed by the forensics team, it was impossible for anyone to confirm the cause of death. He said, therefore, that a death by natural causes could not be ruled out from the case.

Otto Hasibuan, the leader of Jessica's defense team, asked Ong to elaborate on his expert testimony and how he had arrived at a conflicting conclusion from previous experts.

"Are there facts that can support your conclusion?" Otto asked his expert witness.

Ong, who received the murder case dossiers from the defense team, said that 0.2 milligrams of cyanide was an unusual amount to be a cause of death.

Based on his experiences, he continued, if a person died from ingesting cyanide, the level of cyanide in the stomach would usually be very high.

"No postmortem autopsy was performed. A low level of cyanide in the stomach. My conclusion is the cause of death cannot be ascertained," Beng said.

Source: The Jakarta Post, September 6, 2016

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