Kim’s murder trial to resume with lab visit for VX evidence

This combination of Oct. 2, 2017 photos shows Indonesian Siti Aisyah, left, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, right, escorted by police as they leave a court hearing in Shah Alam, Malaysia, outside Kuala Lumpur. (AP)
Updated 08 October 2017
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Kim’s murder trial to resume with lab visit for VX evidence

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: The trial of two women accused of killing the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader enters its second week with the court moving temporarily Monday to a high-security laboratory to view evidence tainted with the toxic VX nerve agent.
High Court Judge Azmi Ariffin declared that prosecutors and defense lawyers, along with the two suspects, will hold court at the laboratory for chemical weapons analysis to examine samples of the women’s clothing before they are formally submitted as evidence.
The decision came after government chemist Raja Subramaniam told the court that VX found on the clothing may still be active.
Such a move is not unusual in criminal cases in Malaysia, where judges often visit crime scenes.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, lawyer for Vietnamese suspect Doan Thi Huong, told The Associated Press that the visit to Raja’s lab is purely for safety reasons. He said the concept of holding a formal court session at the lab is to legalize the visit, which is expected to take an hour, after which the trial will resume in the court building.
Huong and Siti Aisyah of Indonesia pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial last week to charges of murdering Kim Jong Nam by smearing VX on his face at a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13. They face a mandatory death sentence if convicted. Defense lawyers have said the women were duped by suspected North Korean agents into believing they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden TV-camera show.
VX is banned by an international treaty as a weapon of mass destruction but is believed to be part of North Korea’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Kim was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s dynastic rulers but was believed to have been cast out by his father and had lived abroad for years. He reportedly never met current leader Kim Jong Un, who is widely believed to have perceived his older sibling as a threat and targeted him for assassination.
Last week, VX-tainted evidence from Kim Jong Nam’s body and clothing was presented in court in sealed transparent bags. It was not removed from the bags, but the judge and court officials wore surgical masks and gloves as a safety precaution.
During the week’s four trial sessions, prosecutors sought to reconstruct Kim’s final moments at the airport, establish that VX killed him and provide evidence linking VX to the two suspects.
Raja, who is the only Malaysian with a doctorate in chemical weapons analysis, testified he found traces of VX on Huong’s white sweater and fingernail clippings, and on Aisyah’s sleeveless T-shirt. Huong was seen on airport surveillance videos wearing a sweater emblazoned with big black letters reading “LOL,” the acronym for “laughing out loud.”
Raja also confirmed that he found VX on Kim’s face, eyes, clothing, and in his blood and urine samples.
Raja testified that VX can be safely removed from the palm of a hand by scrubbing it with water within 15 minutes of exposure, in a possible explanation of why the two women didn’t show any symptoms of poisoning.
Raja, the eighth witness to take the stand, is to be cross-examined by defense lawyers on Monday after the lab visit.
Pathologist Mohamad Shah Mahmood also testified there were no signs that a heart attack or other factors had contributed to Kim’s death. He concluded in his autopsy report that Kim died of “acute VX poisoning.”
“It’s no surprise,” said Hisyam, Huong’s lawyer. “We know their (prosecution) narration; we know the evidence that they have. We have a response; we have an answer to every evidence they have adduced so far.”
Gooi Soon Seong, the lawyer for Aisyah, has said the detection of VX on the women is not enough to convict them.
“If I have the knife, it doesn’t mean I killed the person. They must have other stronger evidence,” he said.
This week, prosecutors say they will present airport security videos that show the two women carrying out the attack and indicate they knew they were handling poison.


Trump administration seeks to expand immigrant family detention

Updated 23 June 2018
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Trump administration seeks to expand immigrant family detention

  • The proposed expansion comes days after a public outcry moved the administration to cease the practice of separating children from their migrant parents on the border
  • More than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents since Homeland Security announced a plan in April to prosecute all immigrants caught on the border

SANTA ANA, Calif: The Trump administration is calling for the expanded use of family detention for immigrant parents and children who are stopped along the US-Mexico border, a move decried by advocates as a cruel and ineffective attempt to deter families from coming to the United States.
Immigration authorities on Friday issued a notice that they may seek up to 15,000 beds to detain families. The Justice Department has also asked a federal court in California to allow children to be detained longer and in facilities that don’t require state licensing while they await immigration court proceedings.
“The current situation is untenable,” August Flentje, special counsel to the assistant attorney general, wrote in court filings seeking to change a longstanding court settlement that governs the detention of immigrant children. The more constrained the Homeland Security Department is in detaining families together during immigration proceedings, “the more likely it is that families will attempt illegal border crossing.”
The proposed expansion comes days after a public outcry moved the administration to cease the practice of separating children from their migrant parents on the border. More than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents since Homeland Security announced a plan in April to prosecute all immigrants caught on the border.
In all, about 9,000 immigrants traveling in family groups have been caught on the border in each of the last three months, according to federal authorities.
Immigrant advocates contend detention is no place for children and insist there are other alternatives to ensure they and their parents attend immigration court hearings, such as ankle bracelets or community-based programs. The federal court ruled several years ago that children must be released as quickly as possible from family detention.
“It is definitely not a solution under any circumstances,” said Manoj Govindaiah, director of family detention services at the RAICES advocacy group in Texas. “At no point should a child be incarcerated, and children need to be with their parents.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement currently has three family detention facilities — a 100-bed center opened in Pennsylvania in 2001 and two much larger facilities opened in Texas in 2014. Only the Pennsylvania facility can house men, and all of the detainees at the Texas centers are women with children.
In Dilley, Texas, a facility was built on a remote site that was once an old oil workers’ encampment. It includes collections of cottages built around playgrounds. The other Texas center, in Karnes City, is ringed by 15-foot fences and has security cameras monitoring movements. It also offers bilingual children’s books in the library, classes, TVs and an artificial turf soccer field.
Inside the Karnes City center, there are five or six beds to a room typically shared by a couple of families. Cinderblock walls are painted pastel colors, said Govindaiah, who added that the facilities are run by private prison operators, not humanitarian organizations, as is the case with shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children.
Currently, most families spend up to a few weeks in the facilities and are released once they pass an initial asylum screening. They are then given a date to appear before an immigration judge in the cities where they are headed to see if they qualify to stay in the country legally or will face deportation.
Those who do not pass initial screenings can seek additional review in a video conference with a judge, a process that lasts about six weeks.
But that’s much shorter than the six months or a year many families were being held several years ago when the Obama administration began detaining mothers and children in a bid to stem a surge in arrivals on the border, Govindaiah said.
At the time, many were being held until their immigration cases — not just the initial screenings — were resolved.
Advocates then asked the federal court to enforce a decades-old settlement over the detention of immigrant children, and a judge ruled the children should be released as quickly as possible.
The settlement is seen by advocates as a way to ensure children are placed in age-appropriate facilities and for no longer than necessary. State licensing adds another layer of oversight.
“You will have children in facilities that are entirely inappropriate for children and are not meeting child welfare standards,” said Michelle Brane, director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “They are trying to circumvent child welfare standards.”
Brane said there is a viable alternative: supervised release to communities around the country. The federal Family Case Management Program — terminated under the Trump administration — compiled a perfect record of attendance by migrants at court hearings, and a 99 percent appearance record at immigration check-ins, according to a 2017 report by the Homeland Security inspector general.
Just 2 percent of participants — 23 out of 954 — were reported as absconders.
In Friday’s notice, ICE said the family detention beds should be in state-licensed facilities and allow freedom of movement for detainees, and should preferably be located in states along the southwest border.
In addition to providing private showers and educational field trips for children, the centers should appear “child-friendly rather than penal in nature,” the agency said.