Q&A: Looking into Jessica's harrowing hours - is she guilty?
The Jakarta Post
The intrigue over the death of Wayan Mirna Salihin from cyanide poisoning back in January has dragged on. Despite only circumstantial evidence indicating the involvement of Jessica Kumala Wongso, the case has gone to court.
The case has monopolized the spotlight, attracting extensive media coverage from day one. After a lengthy investigation and state prosecutors twice rejecting the case dossiers, the Jakarta Police finally submitted revised dossiers to the Jakarta Prosecutor's Office two days before the 120-day limit on Jessica’s detention expired. The court hearings have been broadcast live on national television, with people commenting on every nuance about the case or Jessica herself.
For those haven’t followed the case from the onset, here’s a quick recap.
The basic version: Jessica invited Mirna to meet up at Olivier restaurant in Grand Indonesia on Jan. 6. Mirna, supposedly reluctant to meet Jessica alone, invited a friend, Juwita “Hani“ Boon. CCTV footage shows that Jessica arrived at the restaurant one hour before the appointed time and ordered a Vietnamese iced coffee for Mirna and two cocktails. After drinking the coffee, Mirna experienced convulsions and began frothing at the mouth. She died on the way to the hospital.
Jessica was declared a suspect on Jan. 29 and arrested the next morning. She was charged under Article 340 of the Criminal Code on premeditated murder, which carries a maximal penalty of death. A travel ban was requested by the police a few days earlier.
How did Jessica become the sole suspect?
The police claim that the coffee Mirna drank was laced with cyanide, a poison often used to commit suicide, murder and acts of terror. The fact that Jessica was the one who ordered the coffee and spent an hour alone with the coffee directed all suspicion at her. Not to mention that Jessica did not seem to panic or try to help when Mirna lost consciousness.
What was the relationship between Mirna and Jessica?
Mirna and Jessica became friends when studying at a design school in Australia. However, the friendship deteriorated when Mirna criticized Jessica’s then boyfriend. People assume this was the motive for Jessica to murder Mirna.
Mirna’s husband, Arief Sumarko, claims that Mirna had told him she felt uncomfortable around Jessica. Mirna’s father, Edi Darmawan Salihin, testified before the court that he and his wife had always thought of Jessica as their daughter’s “strange friend”. The outspoken man said Jessica was not that close to Mirna but acted like she knew the family very well.
What is the evidence?
The conclusion that Jessica committed the murder comes from circumstantial evidence.
- Cyanide in the coffee
A forensic doctor from Bhayangkara National Police Hospital, Slamet Purnomo, believes that Mirna’s death was caused by cyanide poisoning. Slamet testified that Mirna’s intestines had signs of irritation caused by a corrosive substance, such as cyanide, arsenic or sulfuric acid. The inside of Mirna’s mouth was also blackened.
On that day, the restaurant served 10 cups of Vietnamese iced coffee. None of the iced coffees caused a reaction except for Jessica's.
A toxicologist from the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Division, Sr. Comr. Nursamran Subandi, testified before the court that the killer of Wayan Mirna Salihin was someone who knew that cyanide worked only in low temperatures and hence the iced coffee.
However, one of Jessica’s lawyers, Otto Hasibuan, has argued that nothing presented at court proves that Jessica was the murderer. The lawyer even accused Olivier restaurant barista Rangga Dwi Saputra of being paid by Mirna’s husband to kill her. The lawyer also asked if Rangga was the one who threw away the rest of the hot water in the kettle used to make Mirna’s coffee. Otto said the kettle might be an important and overlooked piece of evidence as it could have been the place where the real murderer placed the cyanide.
Upon entering Olivier restaurant, Jessica was recorded by CCTV camera to be examining the seating. After a short while, she left the cafe and went to a Bath and Body Works shop in the West Mall of the same shopping center and bought three types of bath salts.
The prosecutors, led by Ardito Muwandi, told the court that Jessica apparently knew the locations of the CCTV cameras in the restaurant and allegedly attempted to block the view of the cameras with three paper shopping bags strategically placed on her table.
Psychologist Antonia Ratih noted that Jessica acted unusual during her one-hour wait. Normally, when someone enters a restaurant, they place their belongings beside them, especially when the seat next to them is empty, Antonia said. In this case, she added, Jessica put the three paper bags on the table in front of her before arranging them. The coffee glass was behind the bags.
Jessica’s lawyer has criticized Antonia’s professional background. Antonia graduated with a Bachelor of psychology degree, but her Master's degree was in management. The lawyer also questioned Antonia’s neutrality as the psychologist was involved during the interrogation, leading to the tendency to side with the police.
Expert Adj.Sr.Comr. Mohammad Nuh Al-Azhar stated that Jessica displayed “suspicious movements” while waiting. At 4:29 p.m., Jessica opened her handbag with two hands. "She opened her bag while turning her head to the left and right continuously. Looking at the pixel movement, she seemed to put something on the table," Nuh said.
After taking a sip of the coffee, Mirna commented that the coffee tasted awful and asked Jessica to taste it, but Jessica refused. However, Hani did taste the drink.
At 5.23 p.m. when Olivier staff were trying to help Mirna, who was convulsing violently and frothing at the mouth, Jessica just stood there, rubbing and scratching her palms. Nuh said Jessica kept scratching her hands when she picked up her handbag. Toxicologist Nursamran said cyanide had a burning and itching effect on the skin.
At 5.25 p.m., Jessica rubbed her hands on her right thigh. Suspicion of Jessica increased when it was found out that Jessica had instructed her maid to throw away the pants she wore that day. In an interview with KompasTV, Jessica’s mother said the pants had been thrown away because they were torn.
Psychiatrist Natalia Widiasih Raharjanti commented on Jessica’s apparent mental health based on her reported behavior in Australia. Jessica’s boss in the New South Wales ambulance service revealed that Jessica supposedly once made a statement about killing someone. “Jessica said to Kristie [her boss], ‘if I wanted to kill anyone, I know how to do it. I could use a gun. And I know the right dosage’,” Natalia said.
Jessica’s colleagues said she was very upset about breaking up with her boyfriend Patrick in September 2015. Jessica reportedly tried to commit suicide several times and was hospitalized at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in October and November 2015. According to the Australian Federal Police, Jessica had self-harmed since January 2015. It was reported that the following November, she wrote a suicide note, expressing her desperation after Patrick left her and she did not receive emotional support from her family.
This was contradictory to previous examination. A psychologist from the University of Indonesia, Sarlito Wirawan, who examined Jessica in February, stated that she was mentally healthy. However, he mentioned that this did not mean that she was not capable of murder, arguing that the majority of criminals were considered to be of sound mind.
Why is it hard to prove Jessica’s guilt or innocence?
There is no direct evidence, such as no footage showing it was Jessica who poured the cyanide into Mirna’s coffee. All circumstantial evidence might imply that Jessica was the murderer, but the lack of evidence linking Jessica directly to the cyanide complicates the case. Indonesia adopts the presumption of innocence.
Defense team leader Otto said that the prosecutors had failed to provide a clear picture of the case in the indictment, accusing them of failing to explain from where Jessica had obtained the cyanide and where she kept it in the restaurant. The seasoned lawyer also questioned the medical examination results, which did not specify the amount of sodium cyanide in the victim’s body.
The lawyer even accused Olivier restaurant barista Rangga Dwi Saputra of being paid by Mirna’s husband to kill her. Otto asked Rangga if he had received Rp 140 million (US$10,670) from Mirna’s husband to commit the murder. Otto claimed his side did not make up the claim and that the police had recorded Rangga’s confession of having murdered Mirna in a case dossier. The examination became complicated as the barista kept changing his answer regarding the water used to make the coffee and the method used to make Vietnamese iced coffee.
Intensive media coverage also complicates the case, as many people decided long before the trial started that Jessica was guilty.
For instance, a tip off from Australian Federal Police saying that Jessica had a criminal record quickly spread on social media. One of Jessica’s lawyers, Sordame Purba, later dismissed the Australian Federal Police record as irrelevant, particularly as it concerned a traffic violation. Lawyer Otto said Jessica was a victim of misinformation, citing the Australian driving violation as an example. (dmr)
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