A Malaysian murder suspect was found innocent because of...bad body odour4 months ago
You have heard of the stories, of murders committed to hide another crime. Usually murders which happen are used to hide the fact that other serious crimes have happened...such as rape. Malaysia has had it’s fair share of such cases, ranging from the highly publicised murder of Canny Ong who was kidnapped from Bangsar Shopping Centre (her burnt body was later found along Old Klang Road) to the unsolved murder of Nurin Jazlin, believed to be a victim of sexual abuse.
While Canny Ong’s murder has been solved and no suspects were ever put on trial for Nurin Jazlin’s murder, Malaysia has another case involving sex and murder case that remains unsolved despite a man being charged with her murder and brought to trial. This is the case of Noritta Samsudin, a company executive who was found bound up in her room by her housemates with one of the main contentions of the case being...a foul odour, a 6-foot tall man, and a suspect that turned himself in?
We know that you smell a good story here so let’s dive into it. There are a lot of speculations in this case but we will keep it to the facts presented in the court’s judgment.
A foul odour, a bound up body, and the silhouette
Noritta Samsudin was your average 22 year old Malaysia. She lived in a room she rented from a couple and worked as an executive in a company located in Kuala Lumpur. On the 5th of December 2003, around 4.30am, her two housemates (Kenneth and Nor Azora) found her body after coming back from a night of drinking.
We know you guys are probably aghast right now because first off, no one would ever want to discover a body and secondly, the circumstances in which Noritta’s body was found was pretty gruesome. Let’s back track a little and check out how the story unfolded.
When the housemates reached home, they were surprised to find the house not lighted up. Okay, you might think that it’s 4.30 in the morning, obviously Noritta would have turned off the lights before going to bed because energy conservation y’all. However, Noritta, Kenneth, and Azora had an agreement to always leave the dining room light on before leaving the house.
Upon unlocking the door and stepping into the hallway, Kenneth and Azora noticed a strong, unpleasant body odour at the main entrance area, wafting down the corridor leading towards the dining room area. After entering the house, Kenneth turned to lock the door and then he and Azora groped their way to their room.
“Nor Azora’s reaction to the smell was that she thought the deceased had a visitor. It was the first time she had encountered that repulsive smell.” – High Court in describing the roommates’ testimony” – excerpted from the facts in the High Court judgment
While Kenneth was busy unlocking their room door, Azora noticed a silhouette of a man to her right but ignored what she saw because she figured that Noritta had a guest over based off the fact that she encountered the foul odour for the first time ever. After they went into their room, Azora asked Kenneth if he saw a man standing out there but Kenneth answered in the negative and thought that Azora was just imagining things. If you guys watched Dukun recently, this is the part where you scream, “ORANG MINYAK”.
Discomfited, Azora decided to leave the bedroom to search for the man she saw earlier. She walked out to kitchen and hall area but found no one. Suddenly...she realised that the front door was unlatched. The thing is...Kenneth locked the door before the two of them made their way to the bedroom. With increasing unease, Azora called for Kenneth and together, they called out Noritta’s name but she didn’t reply. Kenneth then went downstairs to call the security guards because they suspected that their home had been broken into.
While Kenneth made his way down, Azora noticed that Noritta’s room door was slightly ajar. She peeped in and turned on the lights in Noritta’s room, noticing some items strewn across her room. While calling out Noritta’s name, Azora pulled down the comforter that covered her and...she found Noritta lying face down on her bed.
“Her body was found faced downwards on the mattress on the floor of her room. Her head was inside a tied pillow case, both her hands were tied together with an electric iron cord, behind her back, and her legs were also tied with an electrical cord and a bra. She was completely naked but the body was covered with a comforter when she was first seen.” – excerpted from the facts in the High Court judgment
Azora then panicked and rushed to her bedroom window to call for Kenneth who was downstairs at the guardhouse. As she was doing so, she noticed a man walking towards the guardhouse while putting on a shirt. She thought that he was the same man she noticed in her house earlier and shouted out, “Bastard, stop. I think you are a killer”. She rushed down and alongside Kenneth and one security guard, tried to looking for the man she saw to no avail.
After this, Kenneth asked the head security guard to accompany him up. They entered Noritta’s room and Kenneth called out her name but there was no response. He moved to untie the pillow case around her head. After removing it, he found a bolster case tied around her face, covering her mouth. Kenneth untied the knot behind her head and as the case loosened, a piece of face towel, wadded into a ball fell out of Noritta’s mouth.
He attempted to resuscitate Noritta but failed and then called the police.
It seems that Noritta was either a victim of rape and murder or...of a sex play that went painfully wrong. The police started their investigation and then...
One day, the suspect just walked into the police station
The police collected a whole bunch of evidence such as:
- 3 different seminal samples from the mattress
- 11 pieces of tissue paper with semen stains from the waste paper basket
- All the items that were used to tie up Noritta
From all the collected evidence, the police found several DNA samples, one belonging to Noritta and the rest belonged to...two different males. The person who surrendered was Hanif Basree Abdul Rahman, a 36 year old Shah Alam city council engineer. If you are wondering, yes, his DNA was among the ones found in Noritta’s room. He was then formally charged with Noritta’s murder in court.
“Bahawa kamu pada 5.12.2003 di antara jam 1.30 pagi hingga 4.00 pagi di...Kuala Lumpur, telah melakukan bunuh terhadap Noritta binti Samsudin, KP: 810211- 02-5166 dan dengan itu kamu telah melakukan satu kesalahan di bawah seksyen 302 Kanun Keseksaan yang boleh dihukum di bawah seksyen yang sama.” – excerpted from the facts in the High Court judgment
As the case went to trial, there was one crucial thing that the prosecution brought up as circumstantial evidence of Hanif’s guilt. The thing was...before Hanif surrendered himself to the police, he had shaved his pubic hair and trimmed his nails. The Deputy Public Prosecutor told the court that this shows that Hanif tried to destroy all evidence linking him to Noritta. They further told the court that Hanif had asked whether the DNA evidence could link him to Noritta’s room at the night of the murder.
The prosecution also called in the security guards as witnesses and they gave their testimonies in court. In short, what they told the court was this:
- They said that Hanif was a regular visitor at the condominium and would usually come in with Noritta at around 2am
- On the day of the incident, Hanif entered the condominium before 1am and later on, they saw him and Noritta talking to two Malay couples in a Kancil outside the condominium compound
- They did not see him leaving the condominium
If you are thinking that it’s pretty impossible to remember who goes in and out because Hanif must look like a regular Malaysian dude, right? Well...not really...the thing is Hanif is about 6 feet tall, which is an anomaly in Malaysia.
Oh snap, two witnesses testifying against Hanif and the DNA evidence? Things don’t look too good for our good ole’ engineer. TV shows have told us that DNA is most damning evidence to place a suspect at the scene and convict him. We see it all the time when police suspects crumple on TV the moment the detective whips up a strand of hair in a plastic baggie. However, the thing is, what do all these evidences mean in law actually?
The law is divided into direct and circumstantial evidence
In law, regardless of whether it is civl or criminal, there are always things that need to be proved in order to establish the offence or cause of action. These things are known as facts in issue and they are basically the main ingredients in the offence. For example, for Noritta’s murder, the prosecution had to establish these few things:
- That the death of Noritta had taken place
- That her death had been caused by or was a result of something Hanif did
- The act was done with the intention either of causing death or of causing bodily injury sufficient to have caused her death.
Aside from facts in issue, the prosecution could also bring up relevant facts which can help bolster the facts in issue. The relevant fact that the prosecution brought up was the motive of jealousy. They argued that Hanif had murdered Noritta out of a fit of jealousy because she was close friends with another guy. Now, relevant facts may help prove facts in issue but that depends on how much weight they carry.
Now, we have the evidence that goes to prove the facts in issue or relevant facts. The kind of evidence that can prove either types of facts are divided into two; direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is exactly as its name suggests – it directly proves a fact in issue/relevant fact. On the other hand, circumstantial evidence is a little more complicated – it does not directly prove a fact in issue/relevant fact but it allows such an inference. In order to convict on circumstantial evidence alone, the circumstantial evidence must lead the court to the irresistable conclusion that Hanif committed the crime. If there is some other reasonable explanation that the circumstantial evidence provides, the court cannot convict.
Let’s break down the evidences found in Noritta’s murder:
- The testimony by the guards only showed that Hanif was at the apartment at the time of the murder, not that he murdered her. So, this is circumstantial.
- The DNA evidence showed that Hanif had sex with Noritta some time before her death but it did not conclusively place him as the last person to have sex with her and even Hanif admitted that he and Noritta had a sexual relationship and he last saw her the day before the murder. Therefore, this is also only circumstantial.
As a further plot twist...the court found out the security guards actually gave different testimonies to the police and changed their stories a few times. Their initial statements said that they saw Hanif at the apartment but...on the day before the murder. They tried to argue that they were in “panic mood” and failed to remember what happened but the court realised that their stories also had inconsistencies as to what Hanif and Noritta wore and said this:
“This Court had had the benefit of seeing and hearing both these witnesses and their performances can only be concluded as one abhorrent harmonious lie on this crucial aspect of the evidence, which must be absolutely rejected.” – High Court in PP v Hanif Basree Abdul Rahman
As you can see, the strength of the prosecution’s case was founded on the two witness’ testimony which was shown to be untrue. As a matter of fact, even if the testimonies were accepted, they were still only circumstantial and the testimony of the two housemates actually contradicts theirs. The housemates testified that they knew Hanif very well and both mentioned that they had never smelt such a foul odour emanating from Hanif. As a matter of fact, Azora testified that the man she saw had a darker complexion than Hanif.
Given all of this, the court decided to...
Find that Hanif was not the murderer
Yup, that’s right. The court decided to acquit Hanif because of four important reasons:
- They found that the two security guards were not credible witnesses
- The unexplained foul odour
- It was not proven that Hanif was the last person to have intercourse with Noritta
- The presence of the unknown male’s DNA
We already mentioned the guards’ credibility in the part above but the damning part is that the prosecution failed to explain the presence of the unknown male’s DNA evidence.
The court said that given how Noritta’s arms and legs were tied after she died and how only the unknown male’s DNA was found on the electrical cord and bra used to tie her up, he was most likely the last person to be with her.
“...scientific evidence, standing alone, had not enabled the prosecution to establish at the prima facie stage of the proceedings that the accused person was responsible for the murder. It did not even establish that the accused was the last person to have been with the deceased. Quite the contrary, the High Court would find that the person identified as Unknown Male 1 was in all likelihood that last person.” – High Court in PP v Hanif v Basree (emphasis added_
The court said that based on all the above, the prosecution had failed to even make out a prima facie case (basically, a basic case) and hence, acquitted Hanif from the murder charge.
Yes...the murderer is still at large
Unfortunately, Noritta’s case has gone cold. The unknown male was never found nor identified. Based off the fact that there were no signs of a break in or signs of struggle from Noritta, it seems like she knew the person who murdered her. Some of you might think that this was a simple case of some bedroom activities gone wrong (and it was argued by the defence) but the thing is, the evidence showed that the towel was shoved into her mouth with enough force to cause her tongue to collapse and potentially block her airway.
“...forcing an article like a piece of face towel into the deceased’s mouth could have caused her death since the collapse of her tongue from that force could cause the deceased to choke...was of the view that the death was wilfully caused...” – excerpted from the testimony of doctor who conducted the post-mortem on Noritta in the High Court judgment
Perhaps, we will never know.