18 August, 2010

Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand is “sure” that the death of Teoh Beng Hock was not a suicide !

Thai Central Institute of Forensic Science’s director Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand is “sure” that the death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock was not a suicide.

However, she declined to put a percentage on how much she believed his death was due to homicide.

When she initially testified last year, Dr Pornthip said she believed there was an 80% possibility that Teoh's death was homicide.

When asked why she declined to quote a percentage, Dr Pornthip said: "That time, I had to convince the judge (coroner) to do a second post-mortem, so I had to give a percentage."

She also revealed that the pathologists who carried out the first post-mortem had failed to open the skin at the sacrum (the bone at the base of the spine) area and posterior part of the thigh to identify the nature of injuries there.

Dr Pornthip had initially testified that the marks on the thigh may have been due to a beating and the tear to Teoh's anus was a penetrative wound.

However, she said after having the skin from both the regions opened up at the second post mortem in November last year, she was able to say that both the injuries were due to Teoh's fall.

Dr Pornthip also told coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas that she still maintained her opinion that Teoh had sustained pre-fall injuries.

Pornthip, who has more than 25 years' experience in forensic crime scene investigation, said the injuries found on Teoh (right) were inconsistent with other cases of suicide from jumping that she had investigated.

She said the lack of fractures on Teoh's wrists, as well as a cerebral edema (swelling of the brain) indicate that he was unconscious when he landed, confirming that he did not commit suicide.

If he was conscious, she said, he would have broken his fall with his hands and sustained injuries to his wrists.

She said only one ankle was fractured, unlike most suicide by jumping cases, adding that the fracture had a wound around it, suggesting that it was due to the impact of the fall.

Pornthip also testified the skull injury was not a ring fracture, often found in cases of suicide by jumping.

Instead the fracture was caused by either a fall or beating using blunt objects.

The second autopsy, she said, revealed that the bruise on Teoh's neck was likely caused by blunt force and not by the fall, as suggested by Dr Prashant Naresh Samberkar of the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre.

"My staff and I have examined 34 to 35 cases of falls from height and none showed a serious wound like the one on (Teoh's) neck," she said.

But the injury was at a "protected area of the neck" eliminating the possibility that it was hit by an object before or during the fall.

Rather, she said, it indicates a sort of neck hold, but not from manual strangulation, as the force administered was greater than that of a human grip.

She said the bruise was unlike that caused by injury to the spine or chin. The chin area does not have blood vessels which could cause such excessive bleeding and a wound that large.

Pornthip also refuted the findings of Teoh 2nd autopsy, pathologist Dr Peter Vaneziz who had said there was no compression to the neck which occurred for a significant period of time, as the injury indicates that he Teoh's neck was pressed down to an object.

The swelling of the brain also indicates that he was deprived of oxygen for "at least five minutes", either through blockage of a vein, artery or trachea, consistent with the hypothesis of a neck hold.

Pornthip testified that Teoh did not land on its feet as Vaneziz suggested, and that the evidence indicates there was sliding.

However, she found that the anal tear previously believed to suggest possible penetration was in fact caused by injuries to the buttock region due to the fall.

MACC prosecution head Abdul Razak Musa suggests that her testimony is based on her imagination. Pornthip refutes this, saying it is based on her work.

Razak notes that she is not qualified as a forensic expert in Malaysia as the university from which she graduated is not recognised in Malaysia. Pornthip replies that the university is one of the top five in Asia - some in the public gallery applaud.

Razak puts it to Pornthip that Teoh strangled himself. He says that the other four doctors had found no such evidence of strangulation.

Gobind stands up and asks Razak to demonstrate how one can strangle himself. Razak makes an attempt, to laughter from the gallery.

Razak asks her how Teoh could be dead on the 14th floor (where the Selangor MACC office is located in Plaza Masalm, Shah Alam) but alive on the ground.

Razak sounds muddled, causing coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas to chuckle. Azmil explains to Razak that what Pornthip meant was that Teoh was likely unconscious during the fall and not dead.

Razak also asks if she has experience jumping off a building as she has testified that the body was found further from the building than in the usual case of suicide by jumping.

Malik stands up to say that Razak is trying to put words into Pornthip's mouth. "The way he is asking questions makes us want to jump off ourselves!"

Razak puts it to Pornthip that her opinion is different from that of the other four doctors who were present during the second autopsy.

Razak: One against four...

Pornthip: You have to respect the judge (coroner) who will make the decision.

Razak: We work on majority.

There were loud groans from the gallery.

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