Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Moment Bali Nine families found out

The pastor and the painter
On an April evening in 2005, Raji Sukumaran was busy preparing a huge seafood feast for her son Myuran’s birthday. The lead story on the news was to change all that.

ANDREW Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were in Bali together in 2005. They were soon to become household names. Below is an extract from new book, The Pastor And The Painter, which details the moments their families found out something was wrong.

SOMETHING was bothering Raji Sukumaran. Her hair was still wet from the shower when she went out into the street, outside her home in Auburn, in Sydney’s west, hoping to see an approaching taxi.

Myuran had gone on holiday to Bali but he should have been back. It was about 5.30pm on April 18, 2005, the day after his 24th birthday.

Raji had bought seafood from the market and cleaned it before putting it in the freezer. She planned to serve it for her son Myuran’s birthday lunch or dinner. The family always had a special meal when it was a birthday. And seafood was Myuran’s favourite. Raji loved cooking it for him.

Earlier that day Raji had gone to the shopping centre with her sister and her sister’s children. Raji’s daughter, Brintha, had a university exam. Raji felt down but didn’t know why. When she got home, Myuran was not there. Perhaps his flight was arriving in the evening? Raji had made up his bed with fresh linen and cleaned his room. She had folded his clothes and left them on the bed for him. She knew he liked to put them away himself.

When Brintha had got home at 5pm she was keen to know if her big brother was back yet. No, her mum said. Brintha was disappointed.

Outside in the street, her hair wet, Raji couldn’t stop thinking how odd this was. Could he have been in a plane crash, or a car accident? No, it wasn’t time to panic yet. She should go back inside and dry her hair.

The front door was locked. That was strange — she hadn’t locked the door when she’d come out. She knocked again and again but no one answered. She started to worry. The family’s dog started barking from the other side of the door, which at last was opening.

Raji saw Brintha’s scared face. She was shivering as she reached out and pulled her mother inside. Raji started shaking her, wanting to know what was going on.

Brintha could barely speak. She stood there shaking. “Myu, Myu, Mum, Bali, Myu, Bali, arrested ...” It was all she could get out.

A chill ran through Raji’s body as the words sank in. Immediately she fainted, collapsing to the floor in a heap. Brintha had been watching the television news. The lead story was about nine Australians arrested in Bali. Brintha recognised her brother’s T-shirt — and there was no mistaking the distinctive tattoo sticking out from under his sleeve. It was Myuran, no question.

As Raji dragged herself up from the floor, her younger son, Chinthu, appeared. At the same moment the phone started ringing — it was the Australian Consul-General’s office in Bali. They asked to speak to Chinthu. He went upstairs to take the call, not wanting to talk in front of his mother and sister before he found out what was going on.

At that moment he knew only snippets: he had heard about nine Australians being arrested in Bali on the car radio as he drove home. The consular officer told Chinthu that his elder brother had been arrested on drugs charges, an offence that could send him to jail for at least 10 years.

Raji was stunned. She called her parents, and her brothers and sisters. They all rushed over. They cried, prayed and tried to comfort each other. They knew very little except that Myuran had been arrested and was locked up in a police jail. He could get 10 years in prison! Raji couldn’t believe it. “What are we going to do for 10 years?” she begged Chinthu. “We have to visit him.”

With the news now out, media started arriving at the Sukumaran house. The family had to get out of there. At 2am they grabbed some clothes and went to Raji’s sister’s home. Raji’s head was still reeling. She didn’t know a single person in jail. She didn’t even know anyone who knew someone in jail. Her son lived at home with her and the rest of the family and she never had any reason to suspect that he was involved in drugs.

On that same evening, about 10km away in Enfield, Helen Chan was in shock. Her hands trembled as she dialled her eldest son’s number. Michael was in the middle of doing his grocery shopping. “Your brother’s in trouble,” Helen told him. All Helen knew was that Andrew was overseas and appeared to have been arrested. She and her husband, Ken, hadn’t even known Andrew was overseas. By the time Michael rushed to the family home, everyone was in hysterics, desperately trying to work out what was going on. Michael left the next day for Bali. Over the course of a couple of hours that day, nine families across Australia — most of whom had never met and had no clue their children were friends, let alone that they were all in Bali together — were learning about the arrests. In most cases they found out from the media, and soon after received consular calls.

Australian Federal Police badge
The first letter was written on April 8, 2005. Addressed to the Bali police chief, I Made Mangku Pastika, and copied to the intelligence director, the narcotics director and the director of criminal investigation in Bali and Interpol Jakarta, it was written by the Australian Federal Police’s liaison officer in Bali. It had been translated into Indonesian and contained an extraordinary amount of detail about what nine young Australians were planning to do in Bali. Two days before the letter was sent, four suspected heroin couriers had flown from Sydney to Bali: Renae Lawrence (27), Matthew Norman (18), Martin Stephens (29) and Si Yi Chen (20). Another three were due to arrive that day: Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen (21), Michael Czugaj (19) and Scott Rush (19). Andrew Chan was already there. He had flown in on April 3. What was not in the AFP letter was the fact that Myuran Sukumaran was also flying to Bali on April 8. At this stage, he was not on the AFP’s radar at all.

The AFP officers did know, however, that the plan was for the couriers to fly back to Australia on April 15 with heroin strapped to their bodies. They also knew that the couriers would be given baggy clothes to wear, told not to carry any metal and to wear sandals so they would not alert airport scanners; they should also have some souvenir Bali wooden objects with them to declare. They would be told not to smoke leading up to the trip, to ensure they did not appear nervous when the crunch time came and they had to pass security while strapped with heroin.

The point of the AFP’s letter was to ask the Indonesian police to conduct surveillance on the eight Australians in Bali: to find the source of the drugs they were to carry, and gather as much intel as possible to catch those higher up the chain. The letter asked the Indonesians to take whatever action they deemed appropriate. It didn’t specifically request the arrest of the eight young people, but it was hard to imagine that the Indonesian police would ignore the chance to do so.

A second AFP letter, written on April 12, provided details about the group’s planned return to Australia. Andrew Chan and four couriers — Lawrence, Norman, Stephens and Chen — would fly home on April 14. Two days later, Rush, Nguyen and Czugaj would follow. The letter suggested that if some of them were arrested on April 14, the other three would likely become suspicious and abort their mission. The AFP requested that Nguyen, Czugaj and Rush be searched soon after the first group was stopped.

It was Wednesday, April 13 when Bali police intelligence and narcotics police met at the Hard Rock Hotel to arrange a plan for surveilling the Australians. It was a big job and their resources were relatively limited. Two officers checked into the White Rose Hotel in Kuta. Across the corridor, in Room 1022, were Si Yi Chen and Matthew Norman. Two other officers headed to the Aneka Beach Hotel, where Scott Rush and Michael Czugaj were in Room 404. They watched and followed the young men as they went for a day’s rafting trip to Ubud, and later met up with other members of the gang — including someone to whom the surveillance team referred as “the black-skinned man”. This was Myuran. He was staying at the Hard Rock Hotel with Andrew; the pair always seemed to be together. The surveillance team at the Hard Rock was finding it difficult to get any information on Andrew; he had instructed the front desk staff not to reveal his identity or presence there to anybody.

The surveillance team log noted that on Friday, April 15, at 9pm, Andrew Chan walked from the Hard Rock Hotel to the Seaview Cottage. He was there for just 10 minutes, then went back to the Hard Rock. At 2.45am on Saturday, April 16, Andrew and Myuran left their hotel, carrying two suitcases to a small hotel in Kuta called the Plamboyan. At 3.15am they arrived back at the Hard Rock without the suitcases. At 7.40am they went back to the Plamboyan and emerged with two suitcases. This was the handover of the heroin.

When Andrew went to the Seaview Cottage, it was to meet the woman who was supplying the gear. Cherry Likit Bannakorn, a 22-year-old Thai woman, had flown in from Thailand with the drugs, and Andrew had gone to her hotel. The surveillance team, however, had not seen this meeting or even laid eyes on Cherry. The all-important drug handover had been done without them having a clue. It was Cherry’s second trip to Bali, and her second meeting with Andrew. The first time she met him had been before the Indonesian surveillance started.

For days the surveillance crews watched the comings and goings of the group, to and from their various hotels. On the final day, the Australians converged at the Adi Dharma Hotel. Rush and Czugaj checked out of their hotel and went to Nguyen’s room at the Adi Dharma. Norman was already there. Andrew and Myuran arrived with a suitcase and set about strapping the heroin to the bodies of Rush and Czugaj. A little later, in a different room of the same hotel, they did the same with Lawrence and Stephens.

The plastic packages of heroin, strapped to each thigh and around the waist, were secured with a good amount of tape and bandaging. Pepper was used to disguise the smell. The configuration of mules going back to Australia with the heroin was different from what the AFP had outlined in its letter, but the modus operandi was the same. There had also been a delay in the dates of their return: there had not been sufficient heroin, so the group had to wait for more to be transported to Bali. Rush and Czugaj, both from Brisbane, got into a taxi and headed to the airport. So too did Stephens and Lawrence, from NSW. The mules were carrying some 8.2kg of heroin between them. The two groups had been kept apart in Bali: there was no need for them to meet — ever, if all went to plan.

Andrew got into his own taxi and also headed to the airport, giving the driver a hefty tip at the end. He was jovial and at ease. They all checked in for their flights, passing the first wave of security without problem. Andrew wasn’t carrying any drugs. He did have a big wooden fish and what was described by police as a voodoo stick. (Years later, he told me there was no particular reason he had these objects; he said he just liked the stick and bought it.)

The five young Australians’ journey to the airport had been monitored. When the mules and Chan had checked in and were in the departure area, police pounced. Chan had been sitting in a chair reading a Michael Moore book, waiting to board his flight. The four mules were taken away, and within minutes the drugs had been uncovered.

Back in Kuta, the Indonesian police did exactly as their AFP counterparts had asked and intercepted those not catching that night’s flight. Chen, Norman and Nguyen were all in a room at the Melasti Beach Bungalows, in the heart of Kuta, when a knock on the door ended their hopes of heading out on the town to celebrate Myuran’s 24th birthday. Myuran was outside the door when police struck. All were placed under arrest. Two plastic bags, containing 334.26 grams of heroin, were found in the Australians’ luggage, along with pepper, rubber gloves, medical tape, adhesive tape and cloth tape. They were busted.


Still wearing oversized shirts with flower motifs, which they had bought at the markets for barely nothing, the group found themselves the next day at police headquarters in Denpasar.

The Bali NineBefore long, word spread that nine Australians had been arrested at the airport with drugs. The arrested young people cowered in the offices and holding rooms of the drug police, attempting to cover their faces as the media tried to get photographs. Andrew was led out into the car park area, taken from one building to another. “Whatever happened to Schapelle Corby happened to me,” he declared boldly. Under questioning, he and Myuran had provided little assistance to the investigators, denying any knowledge of the drugs. Of more assistance was Renae Lawrence, whose lawyer encouraged her to tell the truth; doing so was a better bet than clamming up and saying nothing, she was advised. At least it would mean a discount on her sentence.

It emerged that this was not Renae and Andrew’s first drug run from Bali. The previous October, with several others, they had succeeded in taking heroin to Australia. Another trip had been planned in December 2004 but had not gone ahead, possibly due to a lack of heroin.

Almost from the moment of their arrest the group was dubbed the “Bali Nine”. Three were from Queensland and the rest from NSW, although some were meeting for the first time at the Denpasar police headquarters. Myuran and Andrew had both attended Homebush Boys High School but had barely known each other at school. Myuran was older. It was not until 2002 that the pair became friendly, meeting through friends of friends at a mate’s house. Andrew had worked with three of the others — Renae Lawrence, Martin Stephens and Matthew Norman — at a catering company that serviced the Sydney Cricket Ground. Si Yi Chen and Matthew Norman had been friends, as had Scott Rush and Michael Czugaj, from Brisbane. They became involved in the drug run through Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen.


Raji Sukumaran went into the room where her son was being held. She couldn’t believe what was happening — it felt like some kind of dream. It was now several days after the arrests, and she and the family had flown to Bali. She looked Myuran in the eye but he couldn’t bear to return her gaze. He looked away, sneaking glances at his mother when he thought she wasn’t looking.

Myuran Sukumaran, left, and Andrew Chan
Raji was angry: all she wanted to do was slap her son. But she couldn’t. Instead, she hugged him. And she cried, breaking down. “Don’t worry, Ma, don’t cry, Myuran kept telling his mother.

Ken and Helen Chan didn’t travel to Bali immediately. They were not well, and it was decided that Michael would go. He ended up spending the best part of a year in Bali. 

He would fly over, stay 28 days until his visa was due to expire, come home and then go back.

Andrew’s parents felt ashamed and embarrassed. Helen couldn’t accept what her son had done. She couldn’t sleep. 

It took her a long time to come to terms with her son’s crime. To Ken, it felt like a bomb had exploded when Andrew was first arrested. He was shocked. 

Only 16 months earlier he had finally retired after 40 years in the restaurant business. The couple had barely had time to enjoy their retirement, and now their lives had been turned upside down.

The Pastor And The Painter by Cindy Wockner, published by Hachette Australia, $32.99, out tomorrow.

Source: news.com.au, Cindy Wockner, March 26, 2018

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