KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Evidence has accumulated against the two suspects in the murder of the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader in the first two weeks of their trial, but the top lawyers hired by the Indonesian and Vietnamese governments to defend the two women say they are unruffled by what has been presented in court so far.
Twelve witnesses have testified so far. Airport staff, police and a doctor said Kim Jong Nam told them his face had been smeared with a liquid and that he suffered a seizure and other health problems before dying on the way to the hospital. A government chemist and doctor said Kim died of acute VX poisoning and the nerve agent was found on his face and in his eyes and blood.
Various witnesses have also testified over the eight days of the trial so far that the two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, had VX on their clothing and Huong on her fingernail clippings.
Airport security video of the assassination on Feb. 13 was also presented in court, showing Huong approaching Kim from behind and clasping her hands on his face. Aisyah can't be seen in the footage but she was identified as a figure running away in another direction. Both women were also seen rushing to wash their hands, which experts testified can safely remove VX, and were shown meeting separately with two men believed to be North Korean agents.
A police officer testified the two men were believed to have provided VX to the women before the attack and were among four suspects at large who prosecutors say had a common intention with the women to kill Kim.
Huong and Aisyah pleaded not guilty when the trial opened Oct. 2. It was halted this week due to a public holiday and will resume Oct. 24 with a visit to the Kuala Lumpur airport where the crime occurred. The judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers are expected to visit the budget terminal's departure hall where Kim was attacked and follow the paths he and the two suspects took afterward.
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. But prosecutors contend the women knew they were handling poison.
The Indonesian and Vietnamese governments have been following the trial closely. An Indonesian foreign ministry official from Jakarta has attended daily, along with representatives from the Vietnamese embassy. The suspects have remained calm and often huddled at each end of the dock as translators briefed them on the proceedings.
The women are being defended by seasoned litigation lawyers who have handled thousands of criminal cases.
Gooi Soon Seng, 61, the main lawyer for Aisyah, was a deputy public prosecutor for 11 years before he started his own legal practice in 1992. His firm, Gooi and Azura, was appointed by the Indonesian Embassy as acting lawyer for capital punishment cases since 2012.
"Up until now, there is nothing much against Aisyah. From the CCTV footages shown in court, I don't see her applying anything on the victim. She was just seen walking away fast. Although VX was found on her shirt, the shirt didn't have her DNA. This is all just circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors must prove her guilty beyond reasonable doubt," Gooi told the AP on Thursday.
The Vietnamese government appointed three senior criminal lawyers to defend Huong. The case against her appears stronger as she was seen in the terminal video footage and VX was found on her clothing and fingernails. A video was also shown of Huong reaching toward a man's face at the airport two days before Kim was attacked, which prosecutors have described as practice.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, 64, is a renowned senior criminal litigator based in southern Johor state. He has vast experience in all criminal cases, especially in drug trafficking cases, and has authored three books.
"It's no surprise. 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," he has told reporters.
Naran Singh, 61, was a medical assistant for nine years at a government hospital until 1989. He obtained his law degree in 1991 and set up his law firm in northern Perak state three years later.
"We have a good defense that is reasonable and can be believed by the court. We are saying that she is doing a prank video and that whatever she did, she didn't know the consequences. She has no intention (to murder) and never knew it was poison," Singh told the AP.
Salim Bashir, 47, began his career in 1997 specializing in criminal cases. He has been chairman of the criminal committee of Malaysia's Bar Council for the past three years and is still holding the post.
"We are not running away from the fact that our client was used to put VX on her palm to wipe it on the victim's face. Our defense is based on the fact whether she has knowledge or not that VX was applied on her hand and whether she knows that she could die from exposure to VX. That is the ultimate decision that the court has to make," Salim said.
He said the government chemist testified that a layman wouldn't be able to identify VX and added that anyone would wash their hands to remove an oily liquid.
Huong and Aisyah are the only two suspects detained in the brazen assassination of Kim, an outcast from North Korea's ruling family who lived abroad in virtual exile for years.
Malaysia has never directly accused North Korea of carrying out the killing, but South Korea's spy agency has said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a five-year plot to kill his eldest brother, who had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic rule.