Criminal probe launched into HKU student's death

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am


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Police launched a criminal investigation into the death of the University of Hong Kong student Joseph 'Joey' Basha after it emerged that his wallet and phone were still missing more than a week after his body was found, and amid family concerns over the initial explanation of how he died.

'My brother is not a drug addict. He is not a heroin user,' his sister Dr Jacqueline Berenson said. 'He may be a party kid ... but he would not inject himself. He wouldn't commit suicide.' Berenson is a forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York City.

The 25-year-old Canadian was found slumped on a public toilet in Yau Ma Tei near his home last Wednesday, 48 hours before he was reported missing. A yellow nylon belt was around his upper left arm and two fresh needle marks were on his left forearm. Basha was left handed.

A needle was found on the floor on the right hand side of his body and there were no old injection marks, according to a detective working on the case.

Friends and family were informed of his death only this Tuesday - six days after his body was found.

Autopsy results showed that the master's student, who also played in a local indie band, had small bruises on the back of his head.

The cause of death is yet to be determined, but police say the bruises, which measure 4cm by 0.8cm at most, are too superficial to be the cause of his death.

Police have declined to classify the case at this stage, but a detective said the case merited 'more investigation', and that everything was being done to find out what had happened.

However, friends and family described the situation as strange, as left-handed Basha would most likely have injected into his right arm.

Professor Philip Beh, a forensic pathologist with HKU, who has performed autopsies on people who have died from heroin overdoses, said: ' While anything is possible for a first time user ... you have to be really steady to inject and draw back.

'It's uncommon they would inject by themselves.'

The belt found on the scene also does not belong to Basha, say police, and friends say the 25-year-old Canadian was in good spirits. 'He seemed happy and we were even talking about a dinner to celebrate the successful [music] shows we had had in the past few months,' band mate Dixon Chan earlier told the Post.

Police said yesterday there were no signs of a struggle, deep injuries, fatal disease or evidence of strangulation, and at present had no reason to think others were involved in his death, but said they would look into CCTV footage in a park across from the toilet, as well as place requests to test hair and nail samples.

They say it will take two months for toxicology results to become available.

The family said they were pleased how the police were now handling the case, but Berenson added that they would like police to keep the pressure on: 'I want to know who killed my brother - whether it was accidental homicide or what.'

Originally from Newfoundland, Basha moved to Hong Kong in 2008. He started studying for a master's degree in international and public affairs at HKU this year. Active in the local music scene as the guitarist and lead singer of indie band Milkteeth, his friends knew him mostly for his love of music. The band played recently at Clockenflap, a harbourfront music festival held in West Kowloon.

A memorial service was held last night at his favourite performance venue Hidden Agenda, and was attended by friends and family. Services were also held in St John's, Newfoundland, and Basha's hometown. Basha's father, a Vietnam war veteran, lives in Florida, while his mother is based in St John's.