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Parents withdraw from inquiry into death of U.S. engineer Shane Todd

Rick and Mary Todd speak to Reuters during an interview at their temporary place of residence in Singapore May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Rick and Mary Todd speak to Reuters during an interview at their temporary place of residence in Singapore May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su

By Kevin Lim and Pedja Stanisic

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The parents of an American engineer found dead in Singapore last year said on Wednesday they will not take part in the rest of a coroner's inquiry into his death, which they say was linked to a project involving the transfer of sensitive technology to China.

In a statement, Rick and Mary Todd said they had lost confidence in the system investigating the death of their 31-year-old son, Shane, who was found hanging from a door in his Singapore apartment last June.

"What has made us say that we can no longer stay here is the testimony from the beginning saying they are always only looking at suicide, never murder," Rick Todd told Reuters Television. "The outcome was pre-determined."

The parents did not appear in court on Wednesday, the day after a U.S. medical examiner they had hired retracted an earlier statement that Todd had been garroted.

Todd's parents believe he was murdered over what they said was his involvement in a project between Singapore's Institute of Microelectronics (IME) and Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Todd had previously worked for the institute.

During the inquiry, which began on May 13, Singapore government lawyers presented forensic reports that showed Todd died by hanging based on injuries around his neck.

Their findings were backed by two U.S. pathologists, who said the manner of death pointed to suicide. U.S. medical examiners, besides reporting on the injury, are also required to provide an opinion about the cause of death.

Singapore's foreign minister, K. Shanmugam, said "the state is committed to presenting all of the evidence" and the conclusions would be left to the coroner to decide.

"We hope that they (the Todds) will take part but, if they don't, it is regrettable," Shanmugam, who is also the law minister, told a news conference. "All of this has come after their primary witness has withdrawn his statements."

The Todds walked out of the hearing on Tuesday after the presiding coroner refused their request to delay testimony by a witness so that they could go through it.

COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION

Todd's death has become a political issue, with Senator Max Baucus, who represents his home state of Montana, pressing for more American involvement in the investigation.

"Our next step from today is using the court of public opinion," Rick Todd said. "If our government wants to talk about industrial espionage and murder, we're more than willing to help."

Under Singapore law, a coroner's inquiry is needed for deaths that are not a result of illness. The state presents evidence and family members are allowed to question witnesses either directly or through their lawyers.

Edward Adelstein, the U.S. medical examiner hired by the Todds, said during cross-examination on Tuesday he based his earlier finding of garroting on photographs from the parents.

Testifying via Skype, Adelstein said he had not physically examined the body and changed his mind about the cause of death after reviewing evidence provided by Singapore authorities showing no signs of broken blood vessels in the neck that would have been consistent with strangulation by a wire or cord.

Adelstein insisted Todd was probably dead before he was hanged after being "tasered" or strangled in a "carotid armlock" but acknowledged he could not show any evidence to support that.

The Todds' belief their son was murdered stemmed from documents on a hard disk drive they said they found in his apartment. He had been researching an advanced semiconductor material called gallium nitride (GaN).

Both Todd's former employer IME and Huawei have said they did not proceed beyond initial discussions into a possible project involving GaN, which can be used in equipment ranging from mobile phone base stations to military radars.

Huawei has been blocked from some projects in Australia and is deemed a security risk by the U.S. Congress on the grounds that its equipment could be used for spying.

(Additional reporting by John O'Callaghan and Joyce Lim; Editing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)

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