A US high-tech researcher whose family says he was murdered in Singapore was under treatment for depression and left suicide notes before he was found hanged, a public inquiry was told yesterday.
Senior state counsel Tai Wei Shyong, opening a coroner’s inquest into the death of electronics engineer Shane Todd, said there were no signs of foul play in the apartment where his body was found.
Todd’s parents, who are taking part in the inquiry, believe he was killed in connection with his work for a Singapore research institute with alleged links to a Chinese firm accused of involvement in international espionage.
Huawei Technologies, a Chinese telecommunications giant, and Todd’s former employer, the state-linked Institute of Microelectronics (IME), have denied collaborating on any project involving Todd, who was 31 when he died.
Todd’s body was found by his girlfriend, Philippine nurse Shirley Sarmiento, at his apartment on June 24 last year, setting off a saga that has reached the highest levels of the US and Singaporean governments.
Tai said police who responded to an emergency call from a woman who heard Sarmiento scream found Todd’s body hanging from an improvised noose suspended from the top of a bathroom door.
“They did not observe any signs of foul play,” he said.
Police found a handwritten note with a password to Todd’s laptop computer, which was found to contain messages to his family, friends and girlfriend, Tai said.
The state counsel cited one note addressed to “Mom and Dad” as saying: “As you know, I have been going through a difficult time and I am facing problems that I don’t know how to solve. I just know how much of a burden I will be to you in the future so I feel it is better to do this now rather than wait until I have caused more damage.”
Todd’s parents, Rick and Mary, listened calmly and took notes at the inquest.
The inquiry is limited to determining the cause of death. Hearings are to be held until May 28 and a verdict is expected by late next month.
Tai said that three months before his death, Todd sought medical help.
He was prescribed anti-depressant pills by a Singaporean psychiatrist after Todd wrote in a patient questionnaire that he had “struggled with stress, anxiety and depression due to work and life-related issues.”
Further forensic tests of Todd’s laptop revealed an Internet search history showing repeated visits to suicide-related Web sites, Tai said.
Todd used search keywords like “noose,” “hangman,” “short drop” and “simple suspension” between March 10 and June 23 last year — the day before his body was found — as well as visiting suicide sites, Tai said.
Todd arrived in Singapore in November 2010 to work for the IME and resigned in May last year. His last day of work was June 22 and he was preparing to return to the US when he was found dead two days later.
Todd’s family said in media interviews that he expressed fears for his life in telephone calls because he was afraid he was being asked to compromise US security in his job.
In reaction to news reports, Huawei and the IME said they held preliminary talks on collaboration, but did not proceed with any joint project.
Todd was part of an IME team working on gallium nitride, a tough semiconductor material that can be used in radar and satellite communications.
A US congressional committee last year labeled Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecom firm, as potential national security threats that should be excluded from US government contracts and barred from acquiring US firms.
More than 60 potential witnesses are lined up for the coroner’s inquest.
After strong lobbying by the Todd family in Washington, the Singaporean police invited the FBI to help investigate his death.