Lawyers deny Indonesian woman poisoned coffee to kill friend

By Reuters/Fergus Jensen, Fransiska Nangoy   June 15, 2016 | 12:40 am PT
Lawyers for an Indonesian woman charged with murdering her college friend by poisoning her coffee said on Wednesday there was no evidence that she committed such a crime.

At the opening court hearing, prosecutors accused Jessica Kumala Wongso, a resident of Australia, of the premeditated murder of Wayan Mirna Salihin at a Jakarta cafe in early January. If found guilty she could face the death penalty.

"According to the results of a medical forensic examination, the cause of Mirna's death was cyanide poisoning," prosecutor Ardito Murdi told a packed courtroom in Indonesia's capital.

Prosecutors said Salihin took a sip of her cyanide-laced drink, collapsed on the floor, and went into convulsions. She died by the time she arrived at hospital.

Defense lawyers said there was no evidence Wongso, 27, had poisoned her coffee.

"Whether through CCTV or based on witness accounts, there was no movement by Jessica to retrieve and put sodium cyanide into Mirna's glass," Wongso's lawyer, Elizabeth Batubara, said in the crowded court room.

"Nobody saw Jessica put poison into Mirna's glass."

The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

The case has grabbed widespread media attention in Indonesia and neighboring Australia.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo's administration has waded into the case, saying Wongso would not be executed if found guilty, according to media. The deal was made with Australia in order for Australian police to assist in the investigation.

Australia does not have the death sentence and opposes its use in other countries.

Australia's police force faced criticism last year for its involvement in tracking an international drug smuggling network that culminated in the execution of two Australian drug traffickers by firing squad in Indonesia.

Indonesia has stepped up the use of the death penalty, mainly as a deterrent to drug crimes, and plans to execute 16 prisoners as early as next month. 

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