Singapore police accessed Shane Todd's hard drive, inquiry hears

Former girlfriend Shirley Sarmiento and former neighbour Michael William Goodwin of US scientist Shane Todd leave the Subordinate courts in Singapore, on May 13, 2013. The scientist whose family claims he was murdered was under treatment for depression and left suicide notes before he was found hanged, a public inquiry was told on Monday

UPDATED (1am 15 May 2013. Adds information on events of day two of inquiry)

The coroner's inquiry heard on Tuesday that three days after U.S. researcher Shane Todd was found hanging dead at his Chinatown apartment, Singapore police had accessed his hard drive, the same one his parents later had in their possession.

The parents, Rick and Mary Todd, believe their son was murdered over a high-tech project allegedly involving a Chinese firm.

Assistant superintendent Soong Yen Peng of the Technology Crime Forensic Branch (TCFB) of the Criminal Investigation Department testified on Tuesday that, as per her report, investigating officer Muhammad Khaldun had attached the drive to his laptop in the evening of 27 June 2012.

Soong said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had also agreed with the findings of the Singapore police that a temporary file linked to "veeco.pptx" had been created and deleted as the result of the opening and closing of the Microsoft Office file.

According to a report by the Financial Times in February, a computer analyst who inspected the drive said that the original file to the "shadow" file contained specific scientific formula for enhancing a chip of Gallium Nitride (GaN), which has potential military applications.

Aside from Soong, senior station inspector Rayme Darman Koh, a police investigator with 18 years of experience, took the stand.

He said his examination of Todd's apartment led him to conclude there had been no foul play as he did not find signs of a struggle.

He explained that there was no chip marks on the doors or knows and no blood stains at the bedroom and living room.

(With reporting by Peace Chiu)

What happened on the first day:

The inquiry began on Monday with state counsel saying the post mortem found his death to be consistent with "hanging and suicide".

In his opening statement, senior state counsel Tai Wei Shyong also said that police investigations found that Todd had taken anti-depressants, and his laptop showed a history of at least 19 internet searches for information related to suicide, including how to tie a hangman's noose.

The deceased's parents, Rick and Mary Todd, believe that their son was murdered over a high-tech project with a Chinese firm.

Todd, an electronics engineer, had just concluded employment with Singapore’s Institute of Microelectronics (IME) when he died.

Chinese telecommunications company Huawei Technologies has denied working with any institute in Singapore involving advanced semiconductor material called Gallium Nitride (GaN), which was Todd's area of expertise.

IME earlier told AFP that neither it nor Todd was involved in any classified research project. "The institute did not go beyond preliminary talks with Huawei on a commercial project relating to GaN power amplifiers for base station applications," it said.

'Heavy hands'

After the state counsel's opening statement, Todd's girlfriend, Shirley Sarmiento, was called to give her testimony.

Sarmiento, who found Todd hanging dead in his apartment on Spottiswoode Park Road on 24 June 2012, said that he told her he was suffering from depression and that "heavy hands" were coming for him.

He also told her he was working on something that could get him in trouble with the U.S. government, and that multiple times he told her he hated his job.

She always thought he was joking when he talked of threats or danger and that "heavy hands" was just a term for his boss, she said.

Sarmiento, who met Todd through an online dating site in December 2010, ascribed his worries to his being a perfectionist.

She also said that he was very close to his family and his brothers were his best friends.

Days before his death, Sarmiento tried contacting Todd but he cancelled dinner via text, saying he was not feeling well. He said the same thing the next day.

Two days before his death, she called him and when he did not pick up she got worried and went to his apartment, which was a mess. She saw the light on in the master bedroom and when she rushed in she saw him hanging from the door between the bedroom and ensuite toilet.

Suicide notes

According to state counsel, police found no signs of forced entry or foul play in Todd's apartment.

They did, however, discover suicide notes in his laptop as the password to the laptop was written on a post-it note stuck to his television.

To his parents, he wrote of good memories, including the times they went to the beach. He asked his parents to remember him the way he was during the good times.

He told his brothers to keep the family close and that he loved them.

In his note to Sarmiento, he said, "Shirley, you were an angel to me and you will be able to stay strong. You're so talented and you have a very bright future. You are the best thing that happened to me in Singapore. I love you."

Unhappy at work

Aside from Sarmiento, three other witnesses were called in the morning: neighbour Michael Goodwin and friends Ali Miserez and Bart Richard Lendrum.

To all three, he expressed frustration over his work at IME.

Goodwin recalled Todd as saying he had dropped equipment worth $10,000 in front of colleagues and felt deeply embarrased about it.

Goodwin described Todd as a perfectionist, who was neat and tidy. Todd seemed upbeat and positive and did not seem like someone who would take his own life, the neighbour added.

Miserez, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University and a friend of Todd since 2006, said he felt that Todd was not happy with his life in Singapore.

When the two met two months before Todd's death, the American mentioned that he believed a mutual friend named Andrew had committed suicide.

Miserez also noticed then that Todd seemed to have developed shaky hands.

"Do I believe he committed suicide? I wish I could say. I have no idea," he said.

The fourth witness, Lendrum, an accountant and another friend of Todd, said that the researcher went to New York in December 2011 to meet about a new project in collaboration between IME and his Santa Barbara PhD professor.

The project did not proceed eventually, and Todd mentioned that he was under a lot of pressure to achieve results and was working long hours and over weekends, Lendrum recalled.

Was scene of Todd’s death altered?

In its cross examination of first responders and investigating officers, the Todds’ lawyers sought to establish that the scene of Todd’s death had been altered, introducing doubt about it being a suicide.

Staff Sergeant Ang Yew Hua, who was one of the team to first arrive at Todd’s apartment, was grilled on why Todd’s body had been cut down from its hanging position despite Ang already having established that the body had no pulse.

Ang answered that taking down the deceased from the noose was standard procedure for ‘hanging cases’ and that he had concluded that Todd’s death was a suicide after seeing no signs of the home being ransacked, no signs of a struggle and checked that all his valuables were intact.

The lawyers' questioning also determined that Ang had removed two Post-Its left by Todd on his television console from their original position before a forensic team and photographer arrived to document the scene.

When asked why he had not gone on to take fingerprints or to collect DNA for the police investigation, Ang responded that his job was ‘only to preserve the scene’.

The lawyers also repeatedly grilled police respondents on the position of Todd’s body, which had been found in an upright position with his feet flat on the floor.

The officers were asked if it appeared that Todd’s body weight had been on his feet with the possibility that he had not hung himself.

Both first responders interviewed said that they had not noticed and could not recall if his weight had been on his feet or on his neck.

However, a cross examination of paramedic Staff Sergeant Low Pey Yun revealed that Todd had a ‘hyper-extended neck’, an injury commonly resulting from hanging.

Speaking to the press after the first day of the inquiry into their son’s death, Rick and Mary Todd, who appeared visibly exhausted, said that it was still too early in the case to talk about anything.

When asked whether she still believed that her son could not have committed suicide, Mrs Todd became emotional and was only able to respond with repeated nods as she fought for composure.

She confirmed that she had her own ideas about how her son had died and added that it would unfold in due process.
The hearing continues in the afternoon. More than 60 witnesses are lined up for the inquiry, which is expected to stretch until 28 May. A verdict on cause of death is expected within three to four weeks afterwards.

- With reporting by Elizabeth Soh

Related links:
Pictures: Coroner's inquiry into death of Shane Todd in Singapore
Singapore to open inquiry into US scientist's death
Singapore police to share evidence with FBI on engineer's death