Questions remain on the curious case of Shane Todd

Shane Todd Parents

Redrum! Redrum!

Now that the family of Shane Todd has left in a huff, the remainder of the coroner’s inquiry becomes a matter of going through the motions. We can expect more witnesses and experts to testify and throw further doubt on his parents’ murder claims. Going by news reports over the past week — bearing in mind they are largely from the local mainstream media — there seems little doubt that the former engineer with the Institute of Microelectronics (IME) had indeed committed suicide. Wrong to cry murder over it; the Singapore police must be feeling pretty smug now.

Unanswered questions

It is a shame the Todds won’t be there because the circumstances remain puzzling. Questions remain unanswered, albeit questions that may be beyond the scope of the inquiry. The most fundamental question is this: Why did Shane Todd commit suicide? This was a smart, young researcher with a PhD qualification and a bright career ahead of him. Granted, the stint at IME did not work out well, but he had already quit the job and bought air tickets to return to the US. There were also no signs of problems in his relationship with girlfriend Shirley Sarmiento.

We have come to know that he suffered from depression, but was the condition serious enough to lead to suicide? Even though he was a little withdrawn socially, according to ex-colleagues, he led an otherwise normal working life right up to his last day at IME. There are also no revelations so far on any major issues he was facing that contributed to the depression, a condition he apparently had from as far back as 2003 when he was with the US Air Force, other than an unhappy two years at IME.

Five lawyers and a quack

Then there were the parents, who have been very much the centre of the show. Due to the unusual suicide scenario, they too were finding it hard to imagine at all why their precious son would take his own life. One could hardly blame them. But it certainly didn’t help their case when they got an external examiner from Missouri who sounded like a quack with his “it all points to murder even if there is no evidence” kind of claims, based not on examination of the dead body but on looking at photographs.

As the inquiry over last week developed, it became more and more obvious that the Todds have a very weak case on their murder claims. This is another part that puzzles. They had engaged five lawyers to represent them at this inquiry. Did none of these lawyers advise them that their case was very weak? Why did they even take up the case? Maybe they had something up their sleeves, but unfortunately we didn’t get to hear from any of them after the Todds stormed off halfway through the inquiry and subsequently relieved these five lawyers of their duties.

What of the “heavy hands”?

Ms Sarmiento testified that Shane Todd had told her that “heavy hands” were coming after him, and that he was working for something that could get him in trouble with the US government. He also complained of a “dishonest environment” at IME. All these were given brief mention by the local media and there was no further probing. The court also appears satisfied with testimonies from members of IME denying any such work. So was it just paranoia caused by depression, or is there more than meets the eye?

I am not one for conspiracy theories, but those who are could point out that the majority of experts who have testified so far are local. It is a pity the Todds had not presented strong, credible experts of their own to offer a different perspective.

Foreign media gone quiet

Also strangely absent is the foreign reporting. Foreign media have been packing the courtroom, yet reports these two weeks have not strayed from the factual. Even the Financial Times (FT) has not followed up on their supposed scoop in February that threw this case into international spotlight. According to The Straits Times, Raymond Bonner, who broke the story in FT, was there at the inquiry. He has not responded to an invitation to testify, nor has he written further on the case.

Could it be that, after a brief hoo-ha initiating from the FT piece, foreign media have since realised it is much ado by a couple of grieving parents over a suicide case? We shall see if the Todds get anywhere with a congressional probe back home.