Court drama ends as Jessica gets 20 years

Indra Budiari

The Jakarta Post

Jessica Kumala Wongso leaned back on her seat in the courtroom of the Central Jakarta District Court, gulped a few times and looked uncomfortably to her right where members of her defense team were sitting, sensing that the day would not end well for her.

From her seat she could listen as the three members of the panel of judges read out their verdict, which mostly consisted of reciting lines from the prosecutors’ demands.

Nothing from her defense statement or those of her lawyers was included in the consideration of the verdict.

She tried to make eye contact with her lead counsel Otto Hasibuan as the three judges took turns in describing her as a disturbed girl who left Australia to run away from a host of problems and sought to channel her anger onto a friend she knew back home.

The 27-year-old blinked rapidly when the judges declared that she was guilty of the premeditated murder that took the life of her former friend Wayan Mirna Salihin, and her face visibly flushed when presiding judge Binsar Gultom sentenced her to 20 years in prison for her crime.

“I don’t accept this verdict because this is unfair and one-sided,” she said.

The verdict marked the end of a months-long media circus and personal drama that was played out on national television and which captivated millions of viewers across the country and abroad.

Many in Australia, where Jessica held permanent-residency status, closely followed the trial especially as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had agreed to help Indonesian police with their investigation, on the condition that the death penalty would not be sought. Australian media reported that the Indonesian government gave a guarantee that Jessica would not face execution.

Three Australian experts testified in the trial that there was no evidence to suggest Mirna’s death was caused by cyanide poisoning.

Mirna died after sipping a Vietnamese iced coffee while hanging out with Jessica and another friend in the Grand Indonesia shopping mall one evening last January.

The theory that her death was caused by sodium cyanide placed in her drink was circulated by the police but no direct witness nor video surveillance footage could confirm that Jessica was the culprit.

Detectives argued that because Jessica picked the venue and ordered the iced coffee for Mirna that proved her culpability in the case.

“This verdict is a death knell for our judicial system,” Otto, the leader of Jessica’s defense team, told reporters after the court concluded its session on Thursday.

During the trial Otto submitted 3,000 pages of defense testimony in an attempt to exonerate his client, but which the panel of judges completely ignored during the reading out of the verdict.

Otto said that he would file an appeal in response to the verdict.

As Jessica was whisked away from the courtroom, relatives of Mirna gathered to celebrate the verdict.

Some were overwhelmed by joy after learning about the verdict from a television set that broadcast the hearing in a live telecast.

Dressed in white T-shirts bearing Mirna’s face and slogan “Justice for Mirna”, family members and relatives saw the verdict as a victory.

Mirna’s outspoken father Edi Darmawan Salihin, who dispatched hundreds of his employees to the court with posters and distributed “Justice for Mirna” pins and T-shirts to courtroom visitors, raised his fist as the judges read their verdict.

Once the judges had finished, Mirna’s relatives began cheering and delivered a round of applause celebrating their victory.

“Thank God Sandy, she got 20 years,” a number of Mirna’s supporters told the dead victim’s twin sister Made Sandy Salihin.

Sandy was soon mobbed by television crews who prepared her for a live interview to get her response to the verdict.

“I am tired but finally I am very happy with this verdict,” Sandy told reporters.

A few meters from Sandy was Mirna’s widower Arif Soemarko, who also had to go live on national television to give his comments about the trial.

Speaking to reporters after it was all over Arif said no verdict could return Mirna to his side, but he believed that justice had been served as the judges agreed to the sentence demand made by prosecutors.

“There is no way I’ll forgive her. She killed my wife and has shown no remorse,” he said of Jessica.