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Was an American engineer in Singapore killed for what he knew? So far, testimony points to suicide

Was an American engineer in Singapore killed for what he knew? So far, testimony points to suicide


The first week of coroner's inquiry into Dr. Shane Todd's death concluded today

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todds leaving court
todds leaving court

The victim's family leaving court Friday afternoon. Left to right: Mary Todd, the victim's mother, with her son Chet Todd, his wife Corynne, sister-in-law, and husband Rick Todd. Photo: Belmont Lay

After a week of court testimony, the tragic death of Shane Todd, 31, which sparked an international investigation, is now looking more like a suicide than an assassination. State witnesses presented a picture of a deeply depressed young man, while offering viable explanations for some of the inconsistencies that originally aroused suspicion around the case. Forensic experts also recreated the death scene, showing it was consistent with hanging and not forceful garroting.

Four of Dr. Todd’s former colleagues testified today saying the project he was working on was not sensitive military technology, as speculated by experts who reviewed files on Dr. Todd’s computer. The high-powered amplifier he was working on was for commercial applications, colleagues said. "IME does not conduct classified military research," said Dr. Patrick Lo Guo-Qiang, an American citizen and Dr. Todd’s former superior at IME. "What they want you to do is nothing secret, they want to be published."

"What they want you to do is nothing secret."

The 12-day coroner’s inquest was ordered after three Congress members and the secretary of state put pressure on Singapore to look into the 11-month-old case. Dr. Todd was found hanging in his apartment in June 2012 just days after he quit his high-pressure job working for the Singaporean science agency Institute of Microelectronics. The case is being closely watched due to implications for the US and Singapore’s very friendly relationship.

Dr. Todd’s family says they became skeptical after they were told that Dr. Todd had drilled holes in the wall in order to hang himself, but found that the death scene did not fit the story. The fact that Dr. Todd’s computer was accessed after his death, combined with caginess from the police and his former employer, compounded their suspicions. A forensic expert commissioned by the Todd family reviewed the coroner’s report and found evidence that suggested Dr. Todd died after a struggle.

Police now say Dr. Todd hanged himself using a strap that he fashioned into a noose according to instructions he found on a website. Police found that Dr. Todd had visited several suicide-related websites before his death, spending up to four hours reading them. Dr. Todd had a history of depression. And although his colleagues and friends testified that his suicide was a total surprise, he had recently visited a psychiatrist.

Police also testified that it was one of their investigators who accessed Dr. Todd’s hard drive after his death. The FBI, which was involved with the case, submitted a report to the court supporting this assessment.

The victim’s mother broke down in court

On the third day of testimony, the victim’s mother, Mary Todd, broke down in court after detailed testimony about how Dr. Todd was found. The Todds gave emotional statements to the press, saying they were "disappointed" in the process and called the system "corrupt." "We came to Singapore to find out the truth and we were told that the defense and our team would work as a team to find the truth, that they're not adversarial," Mary Todd said. "Yet they are only looking at suicide."

The Singapore state counsel issued a statement requesting that the Todds provide evidence of murder. The next day, Rick Todd, Shane’s father, apologized publicly and said his family does have faith in the process. "We’d just seen a lot of pictures of our son – our dead son – and it was a very emotional morning. We’re sorry the word ‘corrupt’ came out, and we have faith in the Singapore court system," he told reporters Thursday.

He said the family will present evidence in the final two days of the inquest. So far, cross-examination by the Todds' lawyers has focused on whether the police presumed the death was suicide before fully investigating.

The police offered explanations for many questions that were raised before the inquest. However, there are still some unanswered questions. There has been no explanation of why, according to the Todds, the police gave such an inaccurate version of events at first. Furthermore, the Todd family says that Dr. Todd told them he was afraid for his life but would not say why.

Dr. Todd's family will present evidence in the final two days of the inquest

It’s also still unclear whether Dr. Todd participated in an illegal transfer of technology to the Chinese telecom company Huawei. His colleagues testified that he did not, and that a project with Huawei did not progress past initial talks, but that story has not been independently confirmed and Huawei did not send someone to testify. The inquest is limited to determining whether Dr. Todd’s death was a suicide or a homicide, so the nature of his work with Huawei could be considered beyond its scope.

When a reporter asked why no one from Huawei would be testifying, state lawyers answered, "The evidence in this case was gathered in the course of police investigations and we have put everything that was relevantly obtained before the court. If there's a need to call anyone else, this is a decision to be made by the coroner."

There are seven days of testimony left. Witnesses to be called include the lead police investigator, and the American pathologist who told the Todds that the death looked like a murder.

The Todds left court quickly today after the fifth day of testimony, giving one interview to CBS News before departing in a waiting car.

Belmont Lay in Singapore contributed to this report.