Singapore’s state counsel said U.S. research engineer Shane Todd was found hanging from a black strap in front of a door in his home when the police found him.
Todd, who was 31 when he died in June last year, was in a standing position with a white towel wrapped around his neck, Senior State Counsel Tai Wei Shyong said on the first day of the coroner’s inquest. The police didn’t find any signs of foul play, he said.
The case drew queries from U.S. senators of Todd’s home state of Montana after his family said he was killed, contradicting the police’s report that showed he committed suicide. As many as 63 people may give evidence over the two-week hearing, according to Gloria James-Civetta, a lawyer for Todd’s family.
“The state is acutely aware of the strong public interest in this case,” Tai said. “We are committed to presenting all the relevant evidence to the court, so that a proper determination can be made as to the cause of and circumstances surrounding Shane’s death.”
His father Rick Todd has said his son’s death may be tied to his work at Singapore’s Institute of Microelectronics and possible technology transfers to China’s Huawei Technologies Co.
“We really appreciate Singapore’s process,” he told reporters after the end of today’s hearing.
Todd arrived in Singapore in November 2010 to join the institute and resigned in May last year, with his last working day on June 22, Tai said.
Eight witnesses took the stand today including his friends Michael Goodwin and Bart Lendrum, who said while Todd appeared stressed, he didn’t show suicidal tendencies.
The police found a two-page letter on Todd’s laptop seeking forgiveness and thanking his parents, brothers, girlfriend, Shirley Sarmiento, and friends, as well as two thumb drives, a diary, and a hard disk drive, Tai said.
Sarmiento had told the police that he was depressed because of his job and was working in a “dishonest environment,” the state counsel said. Todd’s mother, Mary Todd, found a bottle containing tablets with an anti-depressant and a name card of a psychiatrist, which were handed to the police, Tai said.
Police searches using words including “noose,” “hangman” “methods,” “knots,” and “suicide” on Todd’s laptop showed he visited several suicide-related websites, Tai said. The most number of such searches were made on June 23, the day before he was found dead, he said. Todd also made 19 searches related to depression from April to June 2012, he said.
Todd consulted a doctor on March 17, 2012, complaining of stress at work, difficulties coping and sleeping, Tai said. He was referred to a psychiatrist and prescribed anti-depressant tablets, he said.
Coroner’s inquests in Singapore are held to examine sudden or unexplained deaths. Possible verdicts include suicide, misadventure, “open” when the circumstances surrounding the death aren’t clear, death due to negligence and murder. The ruling by the coroner, Judge Chay Yuen Fatt, is final and can’t be appealed.
His family has pressed the Singapore police to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get full access in the probe. The two U.S. senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, in March introduced an amendment to block funding to the institute until the U.S. Attorney General certifies the FBI has full access to all evidence.
The institute, a unit of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research, received almost $500,000 in sub-grants from the U.S. Defense Department in 2010, according to Baucus’s office.
The senators’ actions “deeply disappointed” Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, which said the issue of applying pressure should not arise between the two nations.
Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who met with Baucus on March 12 during a visit to the U.S., has said there were no illegal technology transfers at the institute, which is subject to rigorous audits.
The institute has said it takes the protection of intellectual property very seriously and welcomes a team from the U.S. to verify that there was no wrongful transfer of controlled U.S. technology.
Huawei, the world’s second-largest maker of networking gear, said it doesn’t have any cooperation with the Singapore institute in the gallium nitride field, the focus of Todd’s work. The Shenzhen company’s research relates only to civil and commercial use of telecommunications technology and not military, it said.
The witnesses expected tomorrow include the police officers who arrived at Todd’s home after he died.
The Coroner’s Inquiry is Shane Truman Todd. 002014 of 2012. Singapore Subordinate Courts.