Expert unable to match all fragments to gunman

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am

A forensics expert was unable to conclude that all bullet fragments found in five of the eight Hongkongers killed in the Manila tour bus hijacking last year matched the gunman's M16 rifle, an inquest heard yesterday.

Senior Inspector Godfrey Lee Kai-fai, from the Police Forensic Firearms Examination Bureau, testified in the fourth week of Hong Kong's own inquest into the deaths of eight people held hostage by sacked police officer Rolando Mendoza on August 23.

Lee said rifling marks on the fragments, which came from eight bullets, matched the gunman's rifle to an extent. However, he could not conclude that all of them were shot from Mendoza's rifle or any particular rifle used by police officers that day.

The inquest came after the Philippines' own inquiry found that all eight hostages had been killed by the gunman. The report from the inquiry recommended 12 individuals and three broadcast networks be held liable for the botched rescue.

Over the past three weeks, the Coroner's Court has heard evidence from survivors, Hong Kong ballistics experts and statements of Philippine witnesses, which were used in the Manila inquiry. Pathologists are expected to testify today.

Lee found 18 groups of bullet fragments in the bodies of Ken Leung Kam-wing, Fu Cheuk-yan, Yeung Yee-wa, Yeung Yee-kam and Wong Tze-lam. No fragments were found in the other three killed. Sixteen fragments in Fu's body came from three bullets, while seven fragments from two bullets were found in Leung's body. Fragments from one bullet were found in each of the other three.

Seven other tourists were injured.

The court heard earlier that Mendoza was armed with an M16 rifle and a .45 calibre pistol, while police officers also used M16 rifles.

Lee concluded that none of the bullet fragments that had been recovered from the bodies matched Mendoza's pistol.

Lee arrived at the scene of the shooting on August 24. He was not allowed to board the bus until Philippine investigators had finished examining it, the court heard. He was asked to wait at a police command post nearby for almost two hours.

Lee told the court he was given the bullet fragments by Superintendent Reynaldo Dimalanta de Guzman of the Philippine National Police on August 25. '[Guzman] didn't know where they were collected because the evidence had just arrived [at the laboratory].'

Two days later, Lee saw the bodies at the Kwai Chung Mortuary. He noticed a few spots of gunpowder near a wound on the body of tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn. They were inconsistent with what he would expect to see on someone shot at close range.

He added that he did not see Tse's clothes, which might have prevented gunpowder marking his body.

Government chemist Dr Lee Wing-sze said she found no chemicals that irritate the eyes on the victims, meaning they were dead when tear gas was thrown on to the bus, or the level of chemicals was too low to be detected.

The inquest continues today before Michael Chan Pik-kiu.