The local authorities have rejected insinuations that two pieces of evidence related to US researcher Shane Todd’s death were destroyed to prevent further DNA testing on them.
His parents believe he was murdered even though evidence presented during a 10-day inquiry last year proved he had hanged himself against a door with a noose and towel around his neck.
They told the media in the United States last week that they had wanted the two items for DNA testing. “We have ample evidence that our son was murdered, but the towel and the strap were the only DNA evidence in Shane’s case, and now they have been destroyed,” they reportedly said.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), however, told The Straits Times the items had been destroyed as a matter of protocol after the family of Dr Todd, who was 31 when he died, failed to meet the requirements to get them, despite being given ample time to do so.
The AGC said that in a hearing last year, State Coroner Chay Yuen Fatt had said it was the usual practice to dispose of items used in hanging cases. He gave Dr Todd’s next-of-kin six months to explain why they wanted them.
But the family’s Singapore lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, said he had written to the coroner to object to this, on the basis that the items belonged to the family under the law and they should not have to give a reason for wanting them back.
Mr Choo said he had repeated this point at subsequent hearings and in submissions to the court, and also cited previous case law.
When the six months passed, two more hearings were held, following which the State Coroner ordered the items to be handed to the State for destruction.
This was because they were not Dr Todd’s personal effects and had no monetary or sentimental value, the State Coroner said, adding that returning the items to Dr Todd’s next-of-kin would cause emotional trauma to them.
At this point, Mr Choo asked for two weeks to check whether Dr Todd’s family had further instructions for him. This was granted, but there was no word from him or the family, said the AGC.
“It has never been the State’s position to deny the next-of-kin a chance to retest the exhibits,” said the AGC, adding that the objection was to returning the items when Dr Todd’s family had not given any plausible reason for wanting them.
The AGC said the only other communication it received after the two-week extension was an e-mail from Mr Choo to confirm the items had been disposed of. It added that during the inquiry last year, Dr Todd’s family members and their lawyers had not challenged the DNA analysis of the towel and noose.
A Health Sciences Authority analyst had said the items contained DNA traces that likely came from three people, but DNA could survive for years and it was impossible to tell when or how each of the DNA traces had been deposited.