Australian resident sentenced to 20 years in Indonesia for cyanide coffee murder

By @chelean on
Jessica Kumala Wongso, who is accused of poisoning her friend's coffee with cyanide, reacts during her trial at the Central Jakarta Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 12, 2016.
Jessica Kumala Wongso, who is accused of poisoning her friend's coffee with cyanide, reacts during her trial at the Central Jakarta Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 12, 2016. Reuters/Iqro Rinaldi

Australian resident Jessica Kumala Wongso was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Indonesia on Thursday after being found guilty of murdering her friend by poisoning her coffee with cyanide. The 28-year-old, who remained impassive during the reading of her sentence, said the decision was “not fair and very one-sided.”

The three judges in her case found that she had shown no remorse for killing 27-year-old Wayan Mirna Salihin earlier this year. They concluded that Wongso’s “emotional baggage” had led her to return to Indonesia in December after living in Australia for several years.

The court has found that Wongso was still hurting over her breakup with her Australian boyfriend, Patrick O’Connor, in late 2014. She had made several attempts at self-harm in her apartment in Sydney throughout 2015. In one instance in October, she penned a suicide note to blame O’Connor for her death.

The Indonesian court also heard that Wongso was due at the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney in 2016 to face high-range drink-driving and an AVO application filed by O’Connor.

When she first met with Mirna and her husband Arif Soemarko in December 2015 and she saw them happy, something was “triggered.” She arranged another meeting with her friend at Olivier cafe in Jakarta on Jan. 6, arriving early to pour cyanide into Mirna’s favourite drink, Vietnamese iced coffee. Within minutes of sipping the drink, Mirna began frothing at the mouth. She died on her way to the hospital.

The case has received wide public attention because investigators failed to produce eyewitnesses who had seen Wongso put cyanide into Mirna’s coffee. The case was returned to the police four times before prosecutors finally accepted it.

Wongso’s attorney, Otto Hasibuan, slammed the verdict, saying the judges ignored testimonies from Australian forensic experts for the defence. Dr Michael Robertson said only a small amount of cyanide had been found in samples from the victim’s stomach, which could mean her death could have been due to other causes. Mirna’s body had not undergone post-mortem on religious grounds.

According to the Jakarta Post, Hasibuan also criticised Judge Binsar Gultom for allegedly showing sentiment while reading the verdict. Earlier, Gultom said Wongso pretended to cry while reading her defence, even questioning why the defendant had been wearing eyeglasses in the last weeks of her trial when she had not done previously so.

“I don’t accept this decision because for me, it’s not fair and very one-sided,” Wongso said after the verdict, as quoted by the Australian Associated Press.

Wongso was sentenced to 20 years in prison, although she could have had received worse had the Australian Federal Police not struck a deal with Indonesian authorities. The AFP agreed to assist with the police investigation on the condition that Wongso would not be sentenced to death if she was found guilty.