Narrative verdict to be returned in bus hostage inquest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2011, 12:00am

In a first for the Hong Kong Coroner's Court, the jury in the Manila bus inquest will return a narrative verdict - a description of the events that led to the death of eight hostages on August 23 last year.

'We believe that Hongkongers will not be content with a simple verdict that concludes, for example, that Masa Tse was unlawfully killed,' counsel Hectar Pun Hei said yesterday in a closing submission. He was referring to the tour guide on the bus seized by sacked Filipino police officer Rolando Mendoza.

He earlier proposed to the coroner, Michael Chan Pik-kiu, that the narrative verdict could be given.

'We ask the jury, for the first time, to return a narrative verdict,' said Pun, who is representing the tour guide's elder brother, Tse Chi-kin.

The five jurors in Hong Kong's inquest into the tragedy are expected to reach a verdict soon. Thirty-one Hong Kong witnesses and 10 from the Philippines testified during the inquest.

The jury will also decide on the cause of death - for example, death by misadventure, unlawful killing or an open verdict. Chan has yet to direct the jury on options available to them.

But in reaching a narrative verdict, the jury will also state whether they agree or disagree with a list of statements prepared by the court.

The list on Masa Tse's death contains 44 items, which include:

Mendoza warned at least 10 times in a phone interview with journalists that he would start shooting hostages.

At 7.21pm, Mendoza shot Masa Tse, who was handcuffed near the door, once in the left side of his neck.

Masa Tse would have had a chance of survival if resuscitated within 20 to 30 minutes after being shot.

The court has prepared separate but similar lists for each of the other seven deceased.

In the past, juries in inquests decided on the cause of death but did not elaborate a great deal on the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

'It was a tragedy that could have been avoided. It was because of the incompetence of the Philippines' police that eight people died and others were injured,' Pun said.

Some questions will touch on the conduct of the authorities that day. For example, jurors will be asked whether they agree with the statement: 'After the bus driver fled, police officers didn't ask him what the situation was on board the bus.'

Pun's submission came after the coroner decided that the inquest would not hear from another four Filipino witnesses, who had informed the Department of Justice via the Philippines' consulate-general on Sunday that they wished to testify.

Their testimony would not add much to the evidence already heard, said Chan.

Two of the four, Sheila Marie Augustia and Ferdinand Maria Serapio, conducted DNA analyses of blood stains on the bus, Chan said. But they only concluded whether the blood belonged to a male or a female.

The third, Ligaya Banawan, was an illustrator who was not among the 116 Filipino witnesses summoned by the court last December, the coroner said. The fourth witness, Francisco Supe, conducted an autopsy on the gunman.

'We are not concerned about the cause of Mendoza's death,' Chan said. 'We now know that autopsy reports [from the Philippines] only contained 10 lines or so ... and we already have a copy of that report.'

Hong Kong police officers were in Manila last week to assist 10 witnesses in giving evidence via video link.

The coroner is expected to sum up evidence for the jury today.

Direct questions

Examples of statements to which the jury can answer ?yes? or ?no?

Gunman Rolando Mendoza was not satisfied with the letter from the ombudsman. He said the letter was ?trash?.

After Mendoza fired a warning shot, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and ground commander General Rodolfo Magtibay left the command post for a restaurant.

Mendoza became deranged when he watched his younger brother?s arrest on television on board the bus.

At 7.21pm, Mendoza used his M16 assault rifle to shoot Masa Tse Ting-chunn, who was handcuffed near the door. Tse was shot once in the left side of his neck.

That the Philippine police had failed to meet Mendoza?s demands in a timely and appropriate manner was one of the causes or contributory factors to Tse?s death.