SHAH ALAM: There is an 80% probability that the death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock was a homicide, said renowned Thai forensic pathologist Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand.
Testifying in the inquest into Teoh’s death Wednesday, she said there was only a 20% chance that Teoh had committed suicide.
She added that marks on Teoh’s neck region looked like he had been strangled manually.
“The contusion of the skin on the right side of the neck looks round, indicating it might have been caused by fingers,” she added.
Counsel representing the government Tan Hock Chuan then suggested that she did not have the locus standi to arrive at her opinion.
“Since you did not conduct the post mortem or inspect the body or go to the scene of the incident and not furnished with the report and photos, is it not appropriate to form an opinion on mathematical terms that suicide is 20% and homicide 80%?” he asked.
Dr Pornthip replied she did not take sides and her work involved taking care of the rights of the dead, adding that she only based her opinions on the evidence provided.
This prompted Tan to rephrase the question by suggesting that the limitations she faced was insufficient to help Dr Pornthip to arrive at the conclusion that it was 80% homicide and 20% suicide.
“It is my field, my work and I believe in that. It is more scientific,” said Dr Pornthip, adding that she did not agree with some opinions of Universiti Malaya Medical Centre’s Dr Prashant Samberkar on why Teoh’s death could have been a suicide.
However, she added she did not want to criticise the opinions of other forensic pathologists.
She said her opinion was based on her years of experience and not aimed at contradicting the police or other medical professionals.
Dr Pornthip, who is the director-general of Thailand’s Ministry of Justices Central Institute of Forensic Science, had been invited to give her expert opinion by the Selangor state government.
She is well-known for her prowess in solving complicated homicide cases and is a celebrity of sorts in her homeland.
She is the author of Investigation of Corpses which sold 100,000 copies in Thailand, and also led a group of international forensic scientists in 2004 to identify the remains of the Asian tsunami victims.
Her life and work was narrated in a National Geographic documentary entitled Crime Scene Bangkok in 2004.
Dr Pornthip told coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas that she is willing to conduct a second post mortem on Teoh if his remains are exhumed.
She said she would be able to come up with a more concise and detailed analysis if she could examine Teoh’s remains.
To a question by Gobind Singh Deo who is holding a watching brief for Teoh’s family, Dr Pornthip said she would still be able to conduct the post-mortem in spite of the deceased being buried almost four months ago.
When asked if the second post mortem on Teoh’s body would put her to a disadvantage, Dr Pornthip said there would not be any disadvantages but only limitations due to the decomposition which could destroy everything if a second post-mortem was prolonged.
Questioned by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, the counsel holding a watching brief for the Selangor government, Dr Pornthip said several injuries sustained by Teoh appeared to be inconsistent with a fall from a high place, and appeared to be pre-fall injuries instead.
(Dr Pornthip had been provided with pictures of Teoh’s injuries and post-mortem reports by Dr Khairul Aznam Ibrahim from the Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital and by Universiti Malaya Medical Centre’s Dr Prashant Samberkar).
Malik Imtiaz: Can you explain why not all the injuries were consistent with a fall from a height?
Dr Pornthip: The first is the anal injury; from the picture there’s a penetrative injury at the anal region. I have never seen this type of injury in cases of fall from height.
She added that if the injury had indeed been caused by a bone protrusion, it would have come from the inside of Teoh’s anus as opposed to being a penetrative injury.
Dr Pornthip also said the abrasions found on Teoh’s upper right thigh also appeared like he had been beaten with a piece of wood.
There is more than one line and the direction of the force on the thigh is different from the direction of the penetrative injury to the anal region, she said.
According to Dr Pornthip, there was a need to open the skin in the area where the haemorrhage was found to determine if torture had been involved. (Both the pathologists who had conducted the post-mortem on Teoh had failed to do so.)
She added this was necessary to determine whether the haemorrhage was compatible with a fall from a height and single impact from the ground.
Dr Pornthip also said Teoh’s skull fracture was not typical of a transferred injury due to a fall but was more compatible with a blunt force being directly inflicted to the head.
She said the transferred injury to the skull due to impact of the fall would typically cause a ring fracture at the base of the skull around the spinal column and not a cervical spine fracture such as that suffered by Teoh.
Dr Pornthip said Teoh, 30, was probably alive when he hit the ground but may have been unconscious before the fall.
She added this was in view of the fact that there was no reaction or defensive wounds on his ankles and wrists which would have occurred if he had been conscious.
Dr Pornthip added that these wounds would occur when a conscious person tries to break his fall which was a natural reaction when one is falling from height.
There’s a possibility that he was unconscious from the manual strangulation or pain from the anal region, she said.
Teoh, the political secretary to Selangor executive councillor Ean Yong Hian Wah, had been summoned to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) office at the 14th floor of Plaza Masalam to be questioned over the irregular disbursement of state funds on July 15.
He was found dead on the fifth floor service corridor of the building the following day.
Meanwhile, the Selangor government called on the authorities to study the evidence of Dr Pornthip that Teoh’s death was a probable homicide and that he could have been strangled before falling from the 14th floor of Plaza Masalam.
“Her evidence has indeed proven that the state’s fear on the safety of government officials during interrogation by MACC is not totally unfounded,” said Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Samad in a statement Wednesday.
Given her experience, he said that Dr Pornthip’s evidence could not be taken lightly.
He reiterated his government’s call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Teoh’s death instead of just looking into the interrogation methods used on him by the MACC.
The inquest has been adjourned to Nov 9.