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Tough Questions

Shane Todd’s mysterious death in Singapore: Day one of the inquest

The inquest into the death of Shane Todd, a 31-year-old American electronics engineer, heard from its first witnesses on Monday May 13. At stake is more than just his family’s peace of mind. Todd, who was found dead in his Singapore apartment on June 24 last year, may have committed suicide; or, as his parents believe, he may have been murdered because he got caught up in a battle (paywall) about whether an advanced semiconductor technology could fall into Chinese hands.

As the inquest continues into its second day, here is a summary of the evidence presented so far.

Evidence for suicide

According to a Singaporean police report, Todd was found hanging from an improvised noose tied over his bathroom door.

  • The court heard that Todd had a long history of depression. In March 2012, he saw a psychiatrist in Singapore, and complained of stress, anxiety and depression. He was prescribed anti-depressants but did not return to the psychiatrist.
  • The state’s counsel said that Todd had accessed several websites on suicide and depression. He searched keywords such as “noose,” “hangman,” “short drop,” and “simple suspension” between March 10 and June 23, the day before his body was found.
  • Todd wrote suicide notes on his laptop and left a handwritten note with the password before he died. One such letter addressed to “Mom and Dad,” according to state counsel, read: “As you know, I have been going through a difficult time and I am facing problems that I don’t know how to solve. I just know how much of a burden I will be to you in the future so I feel it is better to do this now rather than wait until I have caused more damage.” His parents say that letter did not sound like it was written by their son.
  • One of the policemen who was first on the scene told the inquest that Todd’s apartment showed no signs of being ransacked or searched. “From what I assessed at the scene I did not suspect foul play,” he said.
  • Two US-based pathologists have agreed with a Singaporean expert’s report that Shane died of “asphyxia due to hanging,” according to the state prosecutor.

Evidence against suicide

  • Todd’s girlfriend, Shirley Sarmiento, conceded that he was depressed, but said he “did not display any suicidal tendencies.” He was anxious, and felt “heavy hands coming after him.”
  • Michael Goodwin, Todd’s 46-year-old Canadian neighbour, agreed that Shane was not suicidal. “I don’t believe he was the type of person who would take his own life,” he told the court. “He always seemed an upbeat and positive guy.”

The inquest is expected to hear from over 60 witnesses, including Todd’s parents, over the course of 12 days. The verdict, which by Singaporean law cannot be appealed, is likely by late June.

When Todd’s parents testify, they are expected to point out incongruities between what they saw when they visited his apartment and what police had told them. Evidence is also expected from an expert who analysed an external hard drive they found at the apartment, and from a pathologist who concluded that Todd might have died from an assault and garrotting.

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