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Jakarta court to decide on cyanide case

AAP logoAAP 26/10/2016 Lauren Farrow

An innocent woman whose troubled past has been used against her or a narcissistic, vengeful murderer?

In the trial of Australian resident Jessica Kumala Wongso, there has been little room for anything in between.

On Thursday, after months of hearings, a panel of three Jakarta judges are expected to decide her guilt and what, if any, punishment she should face.

Wongso was arrested at a Jakarta hotel on January 30, accused of murdering her 27-year-old friend Wayan Mirna Salihin with a cyanide-laced iced coffee.

She was locked inside what she later described as a "rat cell" - a 1.5 by 2.5-metre concrete block inside Jakarta's provincial police headquarters.

For four months, she was alone, aside from the occasional rodent crawling out of the cell's sink and a "piece of dirty cloth on the floor", Wongso said.

When the now 28-year-old emerged in May to be handed over to prosecutors, she faced a heaving press media pack screaming out her name.

She smiled and waited patiently as they took photographs of her from every angle.

Since then her face has been a staple on Indonesian television and across its numerous newspapers.

Prosecutors have portrayed Wongso as a troubled soul - cruel, sadistic and vengeful.

But the defence says the cause of death by cyanide is inconclusive and have pointed at Mirna's husband as a possible suspect.

Wongso visited Jakarta in December last year and organised to meet Mirna, with whom she studied in Australia.

Allegedly seething from comments Mirna made about Wongso's Australian ex-boyfriend Patrick O'Connor, prosecutors say the Australian resident sought to "avenge" the pain she felt over her break-up.

Wongso organised a catch-up with Mirna and their friend Boon Juwita at Olivier Restuarant in one of Jakarta's upmarket malls in the centre of the city on January 6.

Wongso arrived before the other women and ordered Mirna's favourite drink - a Vietnamese iced coffee.

When it was served, she arranged three gift bags around the drink, blocking view of it so she could pour cyanide into the beverage, police allege.

After Mirna arrived and tasted her coffee, she began foaming at the mouth.

Wongso, prosecutors say, did nothing but stare while others rushed around Mirna.

The recently married Mirna was dead by the end of the day.

During the trial, much has been made of the troubled months Wongso spent in Australia leading up to her visit to Jakarta.

Had she not been arrested in January, she would have faced Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court over charges of high-range drink driving as well as an AVO application made by her ex-partner Mr O'Connor.

Mr O'Connor told NSW police in November that he feared for the safety of himself, his friends and family because of Wongso's "escalating behaviour".

Throughout 2015, Jakarta District Court heard of Wongso's numerous attempts at self-harm in her Leichhardt apartment in Sydney's inner-west, including one instance in October during which she penned a suicide note blaming Mr O'Connor for her death.

In a statement read to court, Wongso's former colleague, Kristie Carter, director of marketing and media at NSW Ambulance, described Wongso as a woman of "two personalities" - smiling and kind one moment, quick to anger the next.

Ms Carter spoke of an incident in October when Wongso allegedly said: "If I want to kill someone, I know how."

When Ms Carter refused to help Wongso with a personal matter last November, she allegedly replied: "You must die and your mother must die."

This month prosecutors called for Wongso to be jailed for 20 years for premeditated murder. There was no room for leniency, they said.

But Wongso has maintained her innocence, saying she has been vilified by prosecutors and the press.

"Whatever I do it's wrong ... When I am calm and not showing expression, it was said I was a cold-blooded murderer," Wongso told the court this month.

"When I express myself by smiling or crying, (prosecutors) are also bothered.

"Almost every day I see my face on TV in discussion of this case.... All my personal life, all my past, my suffering, have become a topic of discussion."

Wongso and her legal team maintain there is not enough evidence to tie her to the crime.

Two forensic experts from Australia - Dr Michael Robertson and Prof Beng Beng Ong - testified that without an autopsy having been performed one could not even determine whether cyanide was the cause of death.

Dr Robertson said only a small amount of cyanide had been found in samples from Mirna's stomach, adding: "There's no toxicological evidence of cyanide ingestion because the cyanide in the stomach could also come from other causes."

In the last days of her trial, Wongso pointed the finger at Mirna's husband Arif Soemarko.

She claimed a person spotted Mr Soemarko the day before the alleged murder took place giving a black plastic bag to the barista who served Mirna's coffee.

Mr Soemarko and the Olivier cafe staff member denied the allegation.

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