Tue, 18 Sep 2001

Autopsies help solve mysterious deaths

JAKARTA (JP): Death often comes suddenly and can be mysterious if the cause is not known. In criminal cases, an autopsy can be performed to help solve the puzzle. But is it a mandatory for law enforcers to order an autopsy?

Not necessarily. At least, not for a suspect and key witness in the case of fugitive Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Wiyono, who died last month while he was under police custody.

City police spokesman Sr. Comr. Anton Bachrul Alam said an autopsy is just a complementary attempt to seek evidence from the dead victim and it is not necessarily the vital step.

"An autopsy is usually performed when police have suspicions about an unnatural death," Anton said.

Forensic doctors might also be asked to perform an autopsy if the police need scientific information on the cause of death, he told The Jakarta Post.

For fatal traffic accident cases, it is not necessary for the police to require an autopsy. The police usually ask the forensic doctors to examine the dead bodies and the wounds that might have caused death, as well as the causes of the wounds.

However, in homicide cases, it is essential for the police to ask for an autopsy to obtain necessary data, such as the estimated time of death and the possible causes of death.

As stipulated in Article 133 of the Criminal Code Procedure, Anton said, the police as investigators were entitled to request an autopsy, which could be carried out after notifying the victim's next of kin.

"So it is wrong to say that the police can't have an autopsy performed because the victim's family objects to the post mortem examination," he said.

All costs for the autopsy are met by the state.

"As for the people, I think it's not the cost that matters. They are normally worried about how the autopsy will be performed and the result of the autopsy, whereby the body will shrink as the organs are taken out of it," Anton said.

However, in the case of the sudden deaths of Attorney General Baharuddin Lopa, Lt. Gen. Agus Wirahadikusumah and even Wiyono, police did not react at all over prolonged public speculation about their cause of death.

"I don't think it would be wise for me to comment on those matters. They all died naturally of sickness. That's all I can say," he said.

Official reports said the three died of heart failure.

According to noted forensic expert Abdul Mun'im Idries, forensic doctors could only assist police in providing supporting evidence and even the result of an autopsy could only be used as preliminary clues that police detectives had to correlate with other evidence.

He believed after an autopsy there were no signs of murder that could escape detection.

He rejected speculation that a way of killing that could not be detected in an autopsy had already been discovered.(emf)