‘Coffee Murder’ Case That Gripped Indonesia Ends With a Guilty Verdict

Credit...Tatan Syuflana/Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The quiet afternoon coffee date nine months ago at an upscale Jakarta cafe ended when Wayan Mirna Salihin, after one sip of her iced Vietnamese coffee, collapsed suddenly. Hours later, she was dead.

An autopsy on the 27-year-old woman’s body found that she had died of cyanide poisoning. On Wednesday, a court in Indonesia ruled that her coffee companion, Jessica Kumala Wongso, killed her friend by spiking her drink.

The verdict, in what has been called the “coffee murder” case, was read on live television. TV One, a private national broadcaster, showed every minute of the trial, which gripped Indonesia as well as Australia, where the women attended college together.

When Ms. Wongso was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison, her supporters, who packed half the courtroom, could be heard gasping at the verdict. Ms. Wongso denounced the ruling as “unfair and one-sided” as she was led from the courtroom by the police. Members of the victim’s family broke down in tears.

 

The case set off morbid curiosity and made national headlines after Ms. Wongso was arrested in late January, three weeks after she and Ms. Salihin, both graphic designers, met with another friend at Olivier, the cafe, inside Indonesia’s largest upscale shopping mall.

Intrigued residents have flocked to the restaurant to sit in the booth where Ms. Salihin was poisoned, and to order the iced Vietnamese coffee that was the last thing she drank. The restaurant regularly runs out of the brew.

Closed-circuit television footage from inside the restaurant on Jan. 6 showed Ms. Wongso arriving about an hour before Ms. Salihin and the third woman. After sitting in a booth, she quickly ordered drinks for the three of them.

The footage showed Ms. Wongso putting three shopping bags she had with her on the table, blocking her and the drinks from the camera’s view. After making a series of unknown movements, she placed the bags on the seat.

Prosecutors argued that the defendant was lacing Ms. Salihin’s iced coffee with cyanide from behind her makeshift screen.

Credit...Kemal Jufri for The New York Times

After Ms. Salihin arrived at the restaurant and joined her friend at the booth, she took a sip of her drink and then complained that it tasted funny. Within a minute, Ms. Salihin collapsed and began violently convulsing. She was rushed to a hospital and died a few hours later.

The panel of judges that heard the case against Ms. Wongso agreed that the grainy footage was convincing evidence despite the fact the defendant’s actions were shielded from view.

“This deed was vile and sadistic, committed against her own friend,” said Kisworo, the chief judge, who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name.

After the autopsy was completed on Jan. 10, investigators questioned Ms. Wongso five times and conducted three re-enactments of the episode before arresting her on Jan. 30.

During the police investigation and the court trial, which attracted fevered attention from the news media, it emerged that Ms. Wongso had attempted suicide while living in Australia and that she was involved in a drunken-driving accident.

Prosecutors said during the trial that Ms. Wongso had decided to kill Ms. Salihin because Ms. Salihin had once “insulted” the defendant’s former boyfriend by advising her to break up with him. Ms. Salihin had also recently married, causing the defendant to become increasingly angry and jealous of the victim, according to prosecutors.

Ms. Wongso, who was living in Sydney, returned home for a holiday last December with plans to get revenge on Ms. Salihin by killing her, prosecutors contended.

Restaurant employees noted that Ms. Wongso showed no emotion after Ms. Salihin went into convulsions and made no effort to come to her aid.

An Australian toxicology expert testifying for the defense said that the cyanide found in Ms. Salihin’s body would not have been enough to kill her, but the judges rejected his testimony.

After the verdict, Ms. Wongso’s defense team announced that it would appeal.

“We are concerned and disappointed because the judges did not fully consider the evidence that we presented at the trial,” said Otto Hasibuan, Ms. Wongso’s lead defense attorney. “The judges only considered evidence from prosecutors.”

“The C.C.T.V. evidence was not even considered by the judges” as proving that the defendant was never seen spiking the coffee with the poison, he said.

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