David Hartanto Widjaja’s family storms out of court


David Hartanto Widjaja’s family storms out of court

By Amanda Yong

July 31, 2009 Print Ready Email Article

MOMENTS after the coroner pronounced a verdict of suicide, the family of the dead man stood up.

Click to see larger image
UPSET: (From far left) David Hartanto Widjaja’s elder brother, father and mother walking out of the subordinate courts. PICTURE:AP

Even before State Coroner Victor Yeo could finish reading his statement, the three figures – two of them clad in their usual batik shirts – stormed off.

The family of David Hartanto Widjaja had been listening intently as the coroner read his findings and verdict yesterday – the final day of the inquiry into his death.

David, 21, a final-year electrical and electronic engineering student at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), fell four storeys to his death at about 10.30am on 2 Mar.

He had allegedly stabbed Associate Professor Chan Kap Luk, 45, the supervisor of his final-year project (FYP).

Frowning deeply, David’s father, Mr Hartono Widjaja, 56, was a picture of concentration while David’s brother, Mr William Widjaja, 24, appeared disturbed as the coroner’s reading of his judgment drew to a close.

His mother, Mrs Widjaja, showed no emotion.

But once the verdict was announced, the family hurried out of the courtroom where they released their pent-up emotions.


Amid the hordes of reporters, groups of Indonesian embassy officials, swelling ranks of concerned policemen and a crowd of curious spectators, Mr William Widjaja and his father raged against the outcome.

Conspiracy, they said.

All lies, they claimed.

In agitated tones, their voices raised and faces flushed, they spoke of their anger and rejection of the verdict.

And most of all, their disbelief.

Said Mr William Widjaja: ‘You just think, if your brother suffered like David, would you believe David would commit suicide? It’s murder. Please lah, use your heart.’

As the investigating officers streamed out of the courtroom, the father and son and Indonesian blogger Iwan Piliang, who has been assisting the family in the inquiry, hurled vitriol at them.

When Mr Shashi Nathan, the family’s lawyer, appeared, he became the next target of their fury.

‘You didn’t bring the digital forensic evidence,’ shouted Mr Iwan.

‘They (the court) didn’t allow it,’ Mr Nathan replied calmly.

‘It’s not personal. Shashi, this is not personal,’ Mr Iwan said, his voice still raised.

Mr Nathan: ‘You have the right to express your personal opinion, and William too, but the court didn’t allow the evidence to be admitted. On my part, I’ve tried my best.’

Mr Hartono Widjaja: ‘Certainly, I can’t accept this.’

Mr Nathan: ‘What? The verdict?’

Mr Widjaja: ‘Yes.’

As her menfolk lashed out at the court and those involved in the case, Mrs Widjaja sat alone, quiet tears streaming down her face.

How did she feel about the verdict?

‘I’m very sad and angry with the court because my son was killed. He did not commit suicide,’ she said.

When The New Paper asked if she had expected the verdict, she appeared stumped. Mr William Widjaja, too, did not answer the question when it was put to him.

Instead, he said: ‘What do you think? Would you agree with me? If only the judge would accept…’ His voice trailed off and he did not elaborate.

Based on the evidence adduced, Mr Yeo, the state coroner, concluded that David ‘did voluntarily stab ProfChan’s back with a knife’. In the struggle between the two, ProfChan grabbed the knife and broke the handle.

David also sustained 19 external injuries on his upper limbs, including a deep wound on his right arm. These injuries were likely sustained during the struggle.

But, said Mr Yeo, ‘this is not to say that these injuries were deliberately inflicted by Prof Chan’.

David later left Prof Chan’s office, walked down staircases and a corridor, then climbed over a parapet wall onto the glass roof of a link-bridge where he used his hands ‘to push himself off the wall of the link-bridge’.

‘This,’ Mr Yeo said, ‘was done with the intention to end his life prematurely.’

David died from multiple injuries as a result of his fall from height, the coroner added.

He agreed with police investigators that there was no foul play involved.

Mr Yeo said it was ‘very likely that David was the aggressor and Prof Chan the victim as the evidence throughout the entire episode showed Prof Chan was the one shouting for help, Prof Chan was the one trying to get out of the office…’

Witnesses who saw Prof Chan rush out of his office said he was ‘the first person to rush out of his own office… he looked frightened and panicky’.

Two photographs of Prof Chan, taken at the scene, showed his ‘visibily shaken appearance,’ Mr Yeo said.

On the other hand, David ‘appeared calm’ when he came out of the office. His behaviour ‘was not consistent with that of a victim or one brutally attacked by Prof Chan’.

Mr Yeo accepted that ‘David appeared to be his normal self before his demise and so his sudden and unnatural death came as a shock to his family and friends’.

He said he also ‘fully accepts that David did not disclose his feelings to his close friends, and even to William’.

But ‘a crucial piece of evidence’, a text file entitled Last Words found in David’s laptop and ‘believed to be a suicide note’, shed light on David’s state of mind, Mr Yeo said.

In the one-page document, created on 25Jan, the unnamed writer started out by saying: ‘If this e-mail is sent, that means most probably I’m no longer in this world.

‘Yes, I’m committing suicide and I’ve my reasons. Delete this e-mail immediately if you’re not interested or do not care about me at all.’

Mr Yeo said given that David’s laptop was password-protected and that the note contained ‘intimate details of his childhood and family’, the note ‘could not have been written by anyone other than David’.

The note showed that David ‘clearly struggled and found life difficult after he left high school for university,’ he added.

This was consistent with the testimony of David’s close friend and fellow Indonesian student, Mr Hardian Setiawan Winata.

He had testified that David lost interest in his studies from the second year onwards and no longer aimed to do well. Instead, he spent a lot of time playing online games.

David did not make any progress in his FYP and had no updates for Prof Chan. Thus, it was ‘possible that David was afraid of Prof Chan’.

And while David ‘behaved normally to his friends and family, and did not exhibit any signs of trouble, not everything was going well,’ said Mr Yeo.

‘He found it a struggle to continue living his life ‘in sorrow and suffering’.’

He said: ‘I can fully empathise with David’s family and their disbelief at the evidence adduced at this inquiry.’

But Mr Yeo said he found the witnesses, including the nine who saw the incident, to be credible.

And he accepted the opinions of the expert witnesses, including Dr Marian Wang and Associate Professor Gilbert Lau, pathologists from the Health Sciences Authority.

When The New Paper later asked Mr Nathan about the ‘digital forensic evidence’ mentioned by Mr Iwan, he said the family had wanted to bring in a digital forensic expert to give testimony in court.

‘But the court didn’t allow it as they already had their own expert,’ Mr Nathan said.

He added that he had ‘already explained (this) to the family at length’.

What was it like dealing with the family?

‘Difficult,’ said Mr Nathan.

‘Their antics were sometimes quite upsetting, and sometimes unreasonable, but I tell myself, how would I feel if it were my brother or my son?

‘Emotions were running very high but the family has my deepest sympathies. I empathise with what they’re going through.’


He added: ‘Honestly, this was one of the most difficult hearings I’ve had to deal with in my career.

‘But I’ve a duty not just to the family but to the court, and my conscience is clear.’

Mr Nathan said he did not know of the family’s plans following the verdict as he had not received any instructions. For now, the family plans to return to Jakarta tomorrow.

But Mr William Widjaja had earlier declared to reporters on the steps of the Subordinate Courts: ‘We will not stop here. We will do everything to prove to the world that David was murdered.’


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