Wednesday 10 July 2013

American researcher committed suicide, no foul play: Coroner

By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2013

AMERICAN researcher Shane Todd had killed himself by hanging, a coroner's inquiry into his death has found, dismissing claims by his family that he had been murdered.

Delivering his finding of suicide yesterday, State Coroner Chay Yuen Fatt said evidence from 65 witnesses, heard over a 10-day hearing in May, had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Dr Todd had hanged himself in his apartment here last June. "There was no foul play involved," said the judge, adding that he hoped Dr Todd's family would find closure from his finding.

The decision caps a controversy that had reached the highest levels of both the United States and Singapore governments after a Financial Times (FT) report in February suggested that the Montana native was murdered.

The 31-year-old's parents had claimed in the FT report that their son was killed, possibly over military-related research he had done at the Singapore Institute of Microelectronics (IME), which could have compromised US national security. But this was rejected by the judge, who said a review of Dr Todd's work at IME did not turn up any such research.

In fact, evidence from his friends and colleagues suggested that he had "great difficulty" coping with his work. This was after he had asked to be transferred to conduct research in a field he had little experience in.

"He probably took it hard upon himself when he failed to attain a certain level of proficiency in the field," said the judge.

Other evidence which reinforced the initial classification of suicide by the police included the fact that Dr Todd had visited suicide-related websites in the months before his death.

There was also proof that he was depressed, including records that showed Dr Todd had sought medical treatment for depression while he was in Singapore.

The court's findings remain at odds with his parents' belief that he was murdered - even though their own medical expert from the US had recanted his finding in court that their son had been strangled to death by an unknown assailant.

The Todds, who had walked out of the inquiry on May 21 saying they were unhappy with the State producing Dr Luis Montes - whom they regarded as a "last minute" witness - said in a statement that they were disappointed with the court's decision but had expected it.

The US Embassy here, however, said the inquiry had been "comprehensive, fair and transparent".

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday said the Todds' murder conspiracy theory was based on "untruths, pure fantasy and pure imagination".

He added that Mr Raymond Bonner, who wrote the FT article, had not verified the facts, and said the London-based newspaper should "do the honourable thing" and correct the untruths.

But an FT spokesman, responding to queries from The Straits Times, said it stood by its reporting.


The family walked out of the proceedings before they were supposed to give evidence, and their reason for doing so was that Dr Luis Montes was called as a surprise witness, and they said they didn't know who he was and had never met him before... The family had dinner with Dr Montes two days after Dr Todd died. So you have to conclude that this was trumped up as an excuse for them for not testifying.
- Foreign Minister K.Shanmugam

Todd family's allegations untrue: Shanmugam
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 10 Jul 2013

LAW and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday dismissed allegations from American researcher Shane Todd's parents that Singapore had mishandled the inquiry into their son's death.

After a state coroner ruled on Monday that he had committed suicide, Dr Todd's parents sent a statement to the media alleging that the verdict had been predetermined.

Mr Shanmugam told The Straits Times at an event in Yishun that he understood the Todd family's grief but their allegations "have not stood up to scrutiny and have been found to be untrue".

Asked whether the Government would consider taking action against the Todds if they continued to impugn Singapore's justice system, he said: "The facts are there and people can judge for themselves. We will just have to leave it to the people to judge."

He added that Singapore was legally required to hold a coroner's inquiry into the death and had done so, saying: "It was a full, open inquiry and all evidence was presented."

The US Embassy in Singapore said in a statement on Monday that the inquiry had been "comprehensive, fair and transparent".

Told that the Financial Times (FT) had stood by its February report which suggested that Dr Todd had been murdered, Mr Shanmugam said: "The responsible thing to do would be acknowledge that the original article was full of inaccuracies."

Asked in a press conference on Monday whether the Government would consider suing the FT if it did not correct the article, Mr Shanmugam said: "I don't think that's a path we want to go down."

Yesterday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin slammed the FT for standing by its report. He said in a Facebook post: "So The FT believes that their irresponsible piece of journalism stands? Creating conspiracy out of nothing... I wonder if their sensationalism led the Todd family down this unfortunate path."

Todd 'never had any classified military information'
Evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that he killed himself: Coroner
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2013

CONTRARY to his parents' claims, Dr Shane Todd had never possessed any classified military-related information while he was at the Singapore Institute of Microelectronics (IME), an inquiry into his death found yesterday.

This, therefore, puts paid to allegations that their son was murdered over his work, which he had claimed could compromise United States national security.

In finding the American researcher's death a suicide, State Coroner Chay Yuen Fatt said evidence presented during the 10-day inquiry in May proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the 31-year-old had killed himself. The cause of death: asphyxia by hanging.

Dr Todd's parents have claimed that he was killed over his work at IME, ever since his body was found hanged against a door in his apartment in June last year - shortly after he quit his job. They said their son was concerned after the institute made him do work for Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, which had been accused by the US of espionage.

This, however, was not backed by evidence from a comprehensive review of Dr Todd's work at IME, said Judge Chay in a 145-page decision issued yesterday. He said that while IME was involved in five projects with Huawei, none - including one that Dr Todd had worked on - was classified military work.

On the evidence showing that Dr Todd was "worried about the possibility of violating export control laws and compromising US security", Judge Chay said "on an objective assessment, there was no basis to have such worries".

In fact, Dr Todd's perception of events could have been skewed by his depression and anxiety at the time.

For instance, evidence showed that after he was transferred to another research group on his request in 2011, he apparently had "great difficulty" coping because he had little experience in the new field of research.

He was also known as a perfectionist and probably "took it hard upon himself" when he failed to shine in the new group, said Judge Chay.

"These factors, probably in part or in whole, triggered a relapse of his previous history of depression", which contributed to his decision to commit suicide in June last year, he added.

The fact that Dr Todd had quit IME and had a job offer from a US firm when he was found dead does not rule out suicide, said the State Coroner. E-mail and Internet searches on Dr Todd's laptop, presented as evidence, suggested that he was worried he would not be eligible for the US government security clearance required for his new job back home.

An early draft of a suicide note found on Dr Todd's laptop had stated: "If I went back to the US, I foresaw that I would have the same difficulties there."

Judge Chay said: "These concerns in all likelihood caused him to feel that his deep sense of failure (which was magnified by his psychiatric anxiety) would follow him back to the US.

"In (his) mind, all these factors eventually outweighed the happy prospects of reuniting with his family in the US and culminated in his ultimate decision to take his own life."

The State Coroner's findings yesterday bring an end to the closely watched case.

The court's decision cannot be appealed but the public prosecutor may direct the coroner to reopen the inquiry if further investigations are necessary - for instance, if there is significant new evidence.

Commenting on the case after the decision was delivered, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said he understood the Todd family's grief but "at the same time, we need the strength to face the truth, not make fictional untrue statements and allegations".


The deceased was concerned about his ability to obtain (security) clearance for his new job... These concerns in all likelihood caused him to feel that his deep sense of failure would follow him back to the US. In his mind, these factors eventually outweighed the happy prospects of reuniting with his family in the US and culminated in his ultimate decision to take his own life.
– State Coroner Chay Yuen Fatt, on what may have pushed Mr Todd to suicide


Many of us are parents. We can understand the family's grief. At the same time, we need the strength to face the truth, and not make fictional, untrue statements and allegations.
– Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam

Key findings of State Coroner
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2013

- Medical expert engaged by the Todds was ‘unreliable’

United States-based pathologist Edward Adelstein, who was engaged by the Todds, had initially found that Dr Shane Todd was garrotted, and then hung to conceal the cause of death.

But he changed his view when he testified via videolink during the inquiry, saying Dr Todd was killed by taser or a chokehold in an attack by “more than one assassin”.

State Coroner Chay Yuen Fatt said he found Dr Adelstein’s evidence “nothing short of bizarre and extremely unhelpful in the way that it detracted from the critical pathological issues before the court”.

“To put it bluntly, Dr Adelstein had, on his very own accord, showed himself to be an incredible and unreliable expert,” he added.

- The State did not ‘spring a last-minute witness’ on the Todds during the inquiry

The Todds walked out of the coroner’s inquiry on the seventh day, after their lawyers’ application to have proceedings adjourned for them to vet a new witness for the State was turned down.

They later told reporters that the witness Frenchman Luis Alejandro Andia Montes’ participation in the inquiry was “sprung” on them and they had no time to prepare to question him.

Dr Montes, a former colleague of Dr Todd’s at the Singapore Institute of Microelectronics (IME), subsequently testified that he met the American researcher for a beer on the evening of June 23, refuting the Todds’ claim that their son was killed on the morning of that day.

Judge Chay said yesterday that while the confirmation of Dr Montes as a witness by the State Counsel was late, he was satisfied that the French national was not a surprise witness as it was not due to any reason that was within the State’s control. “When one also takes into account the fact that (Dr Todd’s parents) had actually met Luis Montes before... Luis Montes could not reasonably be said to have been a surprise witness to the NOK (next of kin).”

- Police did not lie about Dr Todd using ‘nuts, bolts and pulleys’ to hang himself

Dr Todd’s mother Mary alleged that the police said her son had drilled holes into his bathroom wall, bolted in a pulley, then slipped a black strap through it to hang himself – an allegation the police investigations officer (IO) Muhammad Khaldun Sarif denied.

Judge Chay found that the officer had “absolutely no reason” to have mentioned nuts, bolts or pulleys to the Todds.

“The disconnect between what IO Khaldun actually said and what the NOK heard on both July 27 and 29, 2012, could, in my view, be explained by a miscommunication which was compounded by the fact that the NOK were (very understandably) in an emotional state and Mary Todd, in particular, had not slept in many days,” he said.

- Suicide note was written by Dr Todd

Mrs Todd said that the grammar in a two-page PDF suicide note purportedly written by Dr Todd, was “Asian” and uncharacteristic of her son, who was “a much better writer than this”, while her husband Rick said the note was too “cold” to have been written by Dr Todd.

The judge disagreed: “It seems to me that it was not inconsistent for a person who was contemplating suicide to not be his usual effusive and warm self.”

“As for Mary Todd’s allegations of ‘Asian grammar’, it was a quantum leap of logic to say that these grammatical mistakes necessarily had to be ‘Asian’ and therefore linked to the IME and/or Huawei,” he said.

“Having considered all these arguments and also taking into account not just the PDF note but all other evidence in the round, I was satisfied that the PDF note was in fact written by the deceased.”

Coroner's inquiry was comprehensive, fair and transparent: US Embassy
The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2013

The United States Embassy in Singapore issued a statement on the coroner's inquiry on Dr Todd's death yesterday.

"The death of Dr Shane Todd in June last year was a profound loss for his family, friends and colleagues, and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to them.

In accordance with Singapore law, a coroner's inquiry was conducted to determine the cause of Dr Todd's death.

The findings from that inquiry were released today.

Officers from the Embassy attended the entire hearing and were with the Todd family during their time in Singapore.

Ambassador David Adelman met with the Todd family in December last year and May.

The coroner heard testimony from a wide range of witnesses in open court and received evidence in the form of written statements and records.

The Todd family was given the opportunity to participate in the hearing and was represented by experienced Singapore legal counsel.

The inquiry into Dr Todd's death was comprehensive, fair and transparent."

* US officials 'satisfied' with audit into S'pore institute
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 31 Dec 2013

A UNITED STATES government audit into the Singapore Institute of Microelectronics (IME), employer of the American researcher found hanged in his apartment here in June last year, has been successfully completed.

The "process audit" of Dr Shane Todd's previous employer was concluded to satisfaction, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday in response to media queries.

The offer to audit IME was made by Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam to US Secretary of State John Kerry during his four-day visit to the US in March this year.

The parents of Dr Todd, 31, had claimed that their son was killed, possibly over military-related research he had done at IME, which could have compromised US national security.

They had alleged to the Financial Times in a February report that Dr Todd was involved in a joint project between IME and Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies that could be put to military ends. This involved a semiconductor material called gallium nitride (GaN), the FT said. Huawei had been accused by the US of espionage.

But Dr Todd's direct supervisor at IME, Dr Patrick Lo, clarified that while the researcher had been involved in talks to develop a GaN amplifier for commercial use, the proposed project eventually fell through.

A coroner's inquiry into Dr Todd's death which concluded in July this year said that a review of the Montana native's work at IME did not turn up any such research.

The coroner also found that the researcher had died from asphyxia by hanging, dismissing claims by his family that he had been murdered. State Coroner Chay Yuen Fatt had said then that evidence presented proved that the deceased had hung himself against a door in his Spottiswoode Park apartment, where he was found by his girlfriend, a nurse working here.

When contacted, a spokesman for the US Embassy here confirmed that an audit was carried out by US officials. When asked if the outcome was satisfactory, he said that the US government "does not characterise these kinds of audits".

The Straits Times understands that US authorities do not classify the outcome of such audits as good, bad or satisfactory. They are considered to be in a "pending" stage, and should new information surface, they would be looked at.

IME did not respond by press time to The Straits Times' queries.

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