By Debra Chong
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 21 — Thai pathologist Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand told the coroner’s court this morning that there was an 80 per cent probability that Teoh Beng Hock’s death was homicide and not suicide, and suggested that some of his injuries were sustained before his fatal fall.
Under questioning from Selangor state lawyer, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, Dr Pornthip testified that the political aide was indeed alive when he hit the ground but added that he was was unconscious, judging from the lack of injuries to his wrists and ankles.
She explained that if he were still conscious when he fell, there would have been “reaction wounds” to show he had instinctively tried to stop from hitting the ground.
She said that Teoh’s injuries showed he could have been strangled and that he sustained anal penetration before he fell to his death on July 16.
Dr Pornthip added that Teoh could have passed out as a result of the strangulation or from the pain from injuries to his anal region.
She told the court that the likelihood that Teoh had committed suicide — the theory previously put forward by the two pathologists who examined Teoh’s body after death — was only 20 per cent.
The stunning testimony made by the forensic expert, who gained international prominence from her work in identifying the 2004 Asian tsunami victims and more recently in the death of Hollywood star David Carradine, appeared to suggest Teoh was assaulted before his death.
Using a graphics presentation, the 54-year-old who has carried out over 10,000 autopsies over the last 27 years, told the court that not all the injuries sustained by Teoh were consistent with those caused by a fall.
The anal tear, which she described as a “penetrating injury”, appeared to have happened before he fell.
Dr Pornthip noted that the tear measured 6cm-wide by 2cm-long. She suggested that they were caused by an object inserted into Teoh’s anus from a bottom-up direction, which she indicated with a blue arrow on a picture slide projected on a white screen in the darkened court this morning.
“This kind of injury, I’ve not seen in cases of fall from height,” the director-general of Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) said.
However, she could not say what the object was.
She also said that the depth of the tear was noted in the autopsy report jointly prepared by Dr Khairul Aznam Ibrahim from the Hospital Tengku Rahimah Ampuan in Klang and Dr Prashant Naresh Samberkar from the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
Several stripes on Teoh’s upper thighs, just below the buttocks were also pointed out as inconsistent with injuries caused by a fall.
Dr Pornthip suggested the horizontal lines were the result of a beating with a stick.
She added that if she had carried out the autopsy on Teoh, she would have cut open the thighs just under the skin to check for internal bleeding in order to confirm her theory.
She also pointed out several “round” bruises on Teoh’s neck, which could mean “manual strangulation” by fingers.
Her lengthy explanation on Teoh’s neck injuries was peppered with graphic references to her own case studies of strangulation victims.
The skull fracture on Teoh’s head, she said, was not typical of an injury from a fall, but more compatible with the result of blunt force applied directly to the skull.
“I found contusion on fracture line, so the fracture could be caused by blunt force injury directly on skull,” she said, explaining why she disagreed with Dr Khairul’s and Dr Prashant’s theory.
The two doctors who performed Teoh’s autopsy had previously put forward the idea that the head injury may have been caused by the momentum of the landing.
“For transfer of force, (you) only find ring fracture at base of the skull along (the) spinal column, not a linear fracture and not a cervical spine fracture,” she added.
She said that her assessment was based on Teoh’s autopsy report, the photographs of his injuries and from snapshots taken at the site where his body was found.
The sole of one of Teoh’s shoe, which had come off his foot, also bore marks that indicated he may have been dragged, she said, basing it on reports of the death scene.
Her theory contradicts Dr Prashant’s idea that it was caused by the impact on the ground.
Magistrate Azmil Muntapha Abas who is acting as coroner in the inquest, allowed Dr Pornthip to carry out a physical check on Teoh’s shoes, which had been tendered to the court as evidence.
She told the court she would like to carry out her own autopsy on Teoh, but the coroner indicated that it may be too late to do so at this stage.
Dr Pornthip had also previously sent two assistants to join the court to survey where Teoh’s body was found on a 5th-floor landing outside the offices of the Selangor branch of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in Plaza Masalam here.
Teoh, who was the political secretary to a DAP state executive councillor, had been questioned overnight on July 15 to help an ongoing investigation into claims his boss had misused state funds.
Dr Pornthip was engaged as an expert witness by the Selangor state government.
Earlier, she told the court that she had conducted over 10,000 autopsies in her career, of which more than 100 dealt with fatal falls from high places.
She estimated Teoh to have died between 6am and 8am on July 16.