New autopsy casts doubt on Macau teen's death

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 12:00am

An autopsy in Portugal casts serious doubt on the accuracy of a Macau postmortem examination, putting pressure on officials in the city to revise their suicide ruling over a teenager's death in 2007.

Luis Amorim (pictured), a student at the Macau Portuguese School, was found dead under the old Macau-Taipa Bridge on the morning of September 30, 2007. His body was lying on Dr Sun Yat-sen Avenue where it passes beneath the bridge.

It was impossible for Luis, 17, to have died from a fall from the bridge as alleged by Macau investigators, an autopsy report by Portugal's National Institute of Forensic Science said this month.

Luis' father, Jose Amorim, a 55-year-old engineer, said his family would not give up fighting for the truth. 'I hope the Macau investigators will look at their mistakes and rectify them,' Amorim said.

After studying Luis' bone fractures, Portuguese forensic scientists concluded that they had not been caused by a fall from the bridge.

'A vertical fall from 12 to 16 metres high ... would have made a lot more damage than those verified,' said the report by the institute, which is under Portugal's Ministry of Justice. 'As no fractures typical of a vertical fall were observed, the hypothesis of a fall from the bridge should be excluded.'

The fractures suggest Luis was repeatedly hit in the head and the right leg, the report said. 'The pattern of fractures is a lot more consistent with repeat, direct and multiple traumas, mainly on the facial skull but also on the right leg,' it said.

Amorim said his son was a happy young man who was not suffering depression. Hours before his death, Luis was celebrating a friend's birthday with others in a pub near the Cultural Centre, near the bridge.

A death certificate the legal medicine department of Macau's Hospital C.S. Januario issued on October 3, 2007 says Luis died of 'suicide by jumping from a height'. The hospital is run by Macau's Health Bureau.

Bernard Wong, the doctor who signed the certificate, found a 'laceration of ascending aorta' and 'fractures of base of the skull and facial bones'.

A few hours after Luis' death, the Judiciary Police of Macau told his mother he had committed suicide - before the Macau hospital finished its autopsy. Police said Luis walked from a pub to the bridge and jumped.

Amorim shipped his son's body to Portugal in October 2007. The Portuguese autopsy was delayed for more than two years due to a legal agreement between Macau and its former ruler. Under the agreement, an autopsy done in Macau must be treated as final in Portugal, where a second autopsy cannot be done before the closure of a Macau investigation - unless Macau prosecutors request an autopsy be done in Portugal.

Macau authorities ignored Amorim's repeat calls for an official letter requesting an autopsy be done in Portugal. An investigation by Macau authorities made little headway in the two years following the death.

Only after Macau prosecutors closed the probe last October could Amorim bring the case to a court in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia in Portugal, leading to another autopsy.

A spokeswoman for Macau's Public Prosecutions Office declined to say what prosecutors had found when they closed the investigation. She also declined to comment on the Portuguese autopsy, saying her office had not received any document related to it.

Jose Coutinho, a legislator in Macau, sent a letter to former chief executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah in June 2008, inquiring about the case on behalf of the family. But he received no reply.

Amorim said Portuguese forensic scientists could not find some fractures identified in Macau's autopsy.

In 2008, the National Institute of Legal Medicine under Portugal's Ministry of Justice examined police photos and Luis' clothing, although an autopsy was not allowed at the time. The test concluded in June 2008 that wounds were suspicious.

It found injuries unrelated to a fall, such as bruises on the neck and the abdomen, suggesting 'longitudinal movement' of the body on a rough surface.

Analysis of Luis' clothes also pointed to such body movement. Investigators said in a report that Luis' shirt buttons appeared to have been ripped off - something more suggestive of a fight than a fall.

And there was a metallic object in his head, as shown in a picture taken by Macau investigators, the investigators found.

They questioned the Macau autopsy report, asking why it had overlooked obvious wounds.

A photo shows Luis was enjoying a gathering with friends hours before his death. Amorim said the photo argued strongly against a suicide.

Pedro Redinha, Amorim's lawyer, is considering bringing the case to a Macau court.

Amorim said his wife, Maria Azevedo, often wept for Luis. He said his family would keep fighting for the truth. 'Luis did not deserve what was done to him. He can no longer fight, but we can,' he said.