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Ruling on UCSB researcher’s death unlikely to provide real answer

By   /   Friday, May 24th, 2013  /   1 Comment

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Dubroff

By the time you read this, a coroner’s inquest into the death in Singapore of a promising young UC Santa Barbara-trained scientist will be headed toward a verdict.

The coroner’s ruling cannot be appealed and thus it will be the official word on whether Shane Todd was murdered or committed suicide. It is a case that has been largely pushed aside amid scandals over media wiretaps, Ben Ghazi and the IRS, but on the theory that the only causes worth defending are lost causes, we’ll try to understand what’s been going on.

Shane Todd, 31, was doing landmark research on gallium nitride, or GaN, a material that has tremendous potential to improve the efficiency and processing speed of semiconductors. He received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from UCSB and was close to Bob York and John Bowers, two well-known and highly respected UCSB professors.

Last year, Todd became increasingly concerned that his work could wind up in the hands of Chinese officials in a way that could compromise national security, and he made arrangements to quit his job at the prestigious Institute of Microelectronics in Singapore. Just a few days before he was to return to the U.S., Todd was found hanged to death in his apartment by his girlfriend.

Intervention by his parents, the FBI and a couple of U.S. senators helped reopen the case of Todd’s death, which was immediately ruled a suicide. So far, the coroner’s inquest has heard testimony on both sides, with a parade of some 36 witnesses expected to appear.

The Singapore police are sticking to their suicide scenario, saying that Todd’s recent web searches reflected an increasing level of depression.  According to reporting from Bloomberg, the Financial Times and AP, the police cited a lack of evidence of forced entry and suicide notes Todd allegedly wrote to back up their conclusion.

Todd’s parents say the notes are obvious forgeries and they said evidence of lack of forced entry cuts two ways.  Via video link on May 21, Edward Adelstein, a deputy coroner from Missouri, told the inquest that Todd’s injuries are consistent with those that might be created by expert killers trying to fake a suicide.

“People who know how to kill you will kill you in a way that makes it difficult to detect,” Bloomberg News reported Adelstein saying in response to a question asking him to back up his finding. “Maybe I’m more conspiratorial than you are,” he added. Adelstein based his evidence on photographs of the body, clearly laboring at a bit of a disadvantage to the cops who were able to see it.

From halfway across the world, it seems hard to imagine that the coroner’s office will overrule the Singapore police force and the Institute of Microelectronics and rule that there is sufficient evidence to launch a full-blown criminal investigation.  There has also been testimony tied to Todd’s deep-rooted worry that some of his research could be co-opted by the Chinese via a large telecoms equipment company called Huawei.

But there is plenty to doubt from the police account — the apartment was not secured, the police were fairly blasé about the whole matter and they stonewalled on asking the FBI to assist until the Todd family forced the issue by refusing to turn over a hard drive found in Shane’s apartment to anybody but the feds.

To anybody who attended the recent UCSB Summit on Energy Efficiency, two things were very clear.  First, that gallium nitride is a very, very big deal when it comes to building all sorts of advanced devices, whether they are light fixtures, server farms or radar jamming gear.

And second, the Chinese are ruthless in their pursuit of market share — whether it is in solar cells or the global supply of semi-precious metals.

Does that all add up to murder? The coroner may get the last word but it is unlikely to be the final answer.

• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.  

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1 Comment

  1. H says:

    It seems like you are unwilling to be fact-based. (1) Parents claim police told them of holes, bolts, etc. but they did not find any. Turns out this holes stuff was made up by the brother, not the police (2) Parents claim suicide notes said things out of character. But a suicide note is now published in full which does not say what the parents say (like thanking the employer). Parents said nothing about other so-called notes (do they exist?) (3) Parents hired a vet who is an uncertified pathologist whose claimed his own son was murdered by conspiratorial yakuza. This vet examined photos that are days old, when the body has transformed. The vet recanted his own garroting speculation. Two certified pathologists from US agrees with Singapore (4) Parents claimed son was dead night before body was found, but son’s friend testified he had a drink with the son, with witnesses. Parents claimed they never heard of this friend, but this friend met the parents a year ago, with other friends willing to testify that meeting! (5) Parents claimed someone access the laptop. Not surprisingly, its the police (duh). The FBI backed up the police’s testimony. (6) With recanting of vet’s speculation, parents said they hired a “flamboyant” Thai pathologist who asserted murder. Very same day, Bangkok Post said Thai pathologist insisted “I did not make such a comment.” Parents made that up. (7) Parents said son “forced to copy GaN recipe”. Anyone who actually knows the field knows you don’t get much with a “recipe” He was asked to take notes. (8) Turned out that son was discharged by US Army. And days before, he searched suicide terms as well as violations of US Army regulations. (9) As parents leave Singapore, mother relented, saying she is now hoping for “undetermined” rather than “murder” (10) But parents still eager to play this up in a “court of public opinion.” The FT reporter who first wrote about this denied rumors he is hawking a movie deal. But the parents are eager to go onto talk shows. (11) Parents said there is a suspicious file in the laptop. The FBI and police concluded that was a Powerpoint temp file (you know, the know you see when you open Powerpoint?) (12) Parents claimed son was working on Huawei stuff, but out he worked on a proposal, which did not pan out (13) Parents now want US Congress hearing, but said the US is too friendly with Singapore and beholden to China. Really?! The bottomline: parents made up what they wanted to believe, but could not take the facts. So they now want to engage Financial Times and TV stations in the media’s “court of public opinion.” Fact-based news (not editorial bias) here:
    http://tinyurl.com/omogh4l
    http://tinyurl.com/pvf43lt

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