Aussie PR denies killing friend with poisoned coffee

JAKARTA • A woman accused of murdering her college friend by slipping cyanide into her coffee broke down as she took the stand yesterday.

Prosecutors are demanding that Jessica Kumala Wongso, an Australian permanent resident, be jailed for 20 years for the murder of Ms Wayan Mirna Salihin, who collapsed and died after being poisoned at an upmarket Jakarta cafe in January.

The "poison coffee" case has generated huge interest in Indonesia, with crowds packing the court during the trial and TV networks showing it live, and in Australia where the victim and alleged murderer studied together at a design college.

Wongso, 28, strenuously denies the premeditated murder and yesterday took the stand in a Jakarta court to issue an emotional claim of her innocence.

"I swear, I am not a murderer," she told the court, speaking through sobs. "I didn't kill Mirna so there shouldn't be any reason to treat me like garbage."

Wongso told the court of her ordeal since her arrest - she has been locked up in a small cell, and labelled a murderer by the police and Ms Salihin's family. She said: "It makes me think, are they mean because they lost Mirna or did they lose Mirna because they are mean?"

Wongso told of how she has endured a nightmare since her arrest - she has been locked up in a small cell, and labelled a murderer by the police and Ms Salihin's family. "It makes me think, are they mean because they lost Mirna or did they lose Mirna because they are mean?" she told the court.

Prosecutors last week recommended the hefty jail term for Wongso, alleging that she decided to kill the victim after Ms Salihin, 27, advised her to break up with her boyfriend as he was using drugs.

They accused the bespectacled design graduate, who lived in Sydney until last year, of planning the murder "meticulously" before inviting Ms Salihin to a cafe at a mall where she slipped cyanide into her Vietnamese iced coffee. Ms Salihin collapsed and began convulsing after drinking the coffee, and died soon afterwards in hospital.

The defence team in the trial, which began in June, asserts the case against its client is weak and lacks evidence to prove guilt. The Australian authorities agreed to assist with the case after receiving assurances that Wongso would not be handed the death penalty if found guilty of murder, a capital crime in Indonesia.

A verdict will be handed down at a later date.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline 'Aussie PR denies killing friend with poisoned coffee'. Print Edition | Subscribe