British banker pleads not guilty to Hong Kong murders

Lawyer defending Rurik Jutting says case based on argument of ‘personality disorder’

 

A Cambridge-educated British banker has pleaded not guilty to the murder of two young Indonesian women found dead at his luxury Hong Kong home almost two years ago, blaming a “personality disorder” for the killings.

Rurik Jutting (31), was arrested in the early hours of November 1st, 2014, after he called police to his 31st floor flat in Wanchai, a seedy bar district not far from the former colony’s financial centre.

Inside, officers found the bodies of two migrant workers who had frequented the area’s bars, 23-year-old Sumarti Ningsih and 29-year-old Seneng Mujiasih, who was also known as Jesse Lorena.

Ningsih, a mother-of-one, had sustained severe knife wounds to her neck and buttocks while the decomposing body of Mujiasih, thought to have been killed several days earlier, had been stuffed into a suitcase placed on the apartment’s balcony.

Shortly after his arrest, Jutting was transferred to the Siu Lam psychiatric centre, a maximum security facility for prisoners requiring psychiatric care.

As his trial began on Monday morning, Jutting told Hong Kong’s high court he was not guilty of murder. However, he pleaded guilty to the crime of manslaughter for the reason of diminished responsibility.

Tim Owen QC, a British lawyer who is defending Jutting, said his case would be based around the argument that Jutting suffered from a “personality disorder”.

John Reading, the prosecutor, claimed psychopathic behaviour did not provide grounds for Jutting, who had been a highly paid employee of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, to plead diminished responsibility.

The defendant, who studied at the prestigious Winchester College school followed by Peterhouse, Cambridge, also admitted a third charge of preventing the lawful burial of a body.

Trim and clean shaven

Jutting had appeared overweight and dishevelled at previous court appearances. But Reuters said he looked trim and clean shaven as he appeared in court wearing a dark blue shirt.

The 2014 murders cast a spotlight on the hardships suffered by more than 330,000 mostly female domestic workers who have migrated to Asia’s main financial hub from places such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

According to a study released earlier this year, one in six of such workers are subjected to forced labour, toiling away for 71 hours each week and often suffering severe physical and mental abuse.

In February last year, one Hong Kong woman was jailed for subjecting her Indonesian helper to a vicious campaign of torture and violence.

A 2013 Amnesty report claimed Indonesian women who came to Hong Kong seeking work often found themselves trapped in a cycle of exploitation and forced to work in slavery-like conditions.

As Jutting’s trial began on Monday, domestic workers and activists gathered outside to protest, carrying placards that read: “Stop violence against women migrants“ and “No one has right to kill”.

Jurors had been warned by the judge that Jutting had filmed the torture and killing of the two Indonesian women he is accused of murdering.

Using cocaine

Jutting was using cocaine when he killed them by slitting their throats and then used his phone to film himself talking about it, the court heard.

The case has shocked the former British colony, which has a reputation for being safe, while also highlighting the city’s extreme inequality.

The case is “particularly horrifying” because it includes photographic evidence of one victim’s torture, the judge told prospective jurors as the trial got under way.

In opening remarks, Prosecutor John Reading told jurors that, according to the facts agreed on by both sides, Ms Sumarti went home with Jutting after he offered her “a large sum of money” on October 25th, 2014. Ms Sumarti, who was in Hong Kong on a tourist visa, had a five-year-old son living with her parents in Indonesia, he said.

Jutting subjected her to “increasingly cruel acts of violence using his belt, sex toys, a pair of pliers and his fists”, Mr Reading said.

He said the pair had previously met when he paid to have sex with her. But on that occasion, because he had been so rough, she offered to give back half the money if she could leave early, which he agreed to.

“After torturing her for three days, he took her into the bathroom, had her kneel in front of the toilet bowl with her hands tied behind her back, made her lick the toilet bowl and then he cut her throat with a serrated-edged knife,” he continued. Jutting continued to saw through her neck when she did not immediately die, he said.

Jutting used his phone to film himself talking about the killing, how he enjoyed dominating Ms Sumarti and how he watched pornographic videos involving extreme violence. He also said he “definitely could not have done that without cocaine”.

In some shots, Ms Sumarti’s body can be seen on the floor of the shower. At one point he wrapped it up and put it in a suitcase that he left on the balcony.

Late on October 31st, 2014, Jutting took Ms Seneng back to his apartment. She was officially in Hong Kong as a foreign maid but was working at a bar when Jutting offered her money for sex, Mr Reading said. After they undressed, Ms Seneng spotted a gag made of some rope that he had left next to the sofa and started to shout, Mr Reading said.

Jutting grabbed her, took a knife he had hidden under a cushion, held it to her throat and told her he would cut her throat if she did not stop.

“She continued to struggle and shout, and he cut her throat,” he told the jurors.

Called emergency number

He made more video recordings, including one that showed Ms Seneng’s body, and told police he used up the rest of his cocaine. He apparently started hallucinating and, believing that the police were coming to get him, called the emergency number.

Officers who arrived found the body and arrested him. In interviews, he gave police a description of what happened and discussed his drug use.

Mr Reading said traces of cocaine were detected in more than two dozen small plastic bags found in Jutting’s apartment.

Jutting, who watched from the glass-screened dock, wore a dark blue shirt, dark-framed glasses and looked much slimmer than in court appearances last year.

When the clerk asked what his plea was to the two murder charge, he replied “Not guilty to murder by reason of diminished responsibility but guilty of manslaughter”, which the prosecutors refused to accept, meaning the trial on the murder charges will proceed.

A third charge was also read out - unlawful burial of Ms Sumarti’s body - to which he pleaded guilty.

Judge Michael Stuart-Moore told jurors before the selection began that the evidence includes “extremely upsetting” colour photos.

“Much of what the jury will see or hear is very disturbing indeed,” he said, but added that the Jutting is entitled to a fair trial.

While Jutting’s initial guilty to manslaughter plea was rejected, the judge told jurors that they could still decide between finding him guilty of murder or manslaughter.

Guardian/AP