Did this millennial poison her friend? What you need to know about Indonesia’s biggest murder trial

Natashya Gutierrez

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Did this millennial poison her friend? What you need to know about Indonesia’s biggest murder trial


Did Jessica Wongso murder her friend Mirna Salihin by putting cyanide in her coffee? The verdict for what Indonesia media dubs as 'the trial of the century' is due 10 months after Mirna's death.

JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) – The date was January 6, 2016.

Jessica Kumala Wongso, then 27, met up with her friends Mirna Sailhin and Boon “Hani” Juwita, at the trendy Olivier Cafe at an upmarket Jakarta mall. It was meant to be a regular get together over coffee as many millennials do – until one of the 3 women died suddenly.

After taking a sip of her Vietnamese iced coffee, Mirna complained of the drink’s terrible taste. Just two minutes later, she started convulsing. Foam started to come out of her mouth, before she fainted.

The next moments were a blur. A crying Hani called Mirna’s husband, telling him of his unconscious wife. Cafe personnel attempted to resuscitate Mirna for several minutes to no avail. An ambulance came to the cafe to rush Mirna to the hospital.

Less than an hour after the fatal sip, she was declared dead on arrival.

Her death made headlines. Shocked friends and family mourned the death of the young woman, the daughter of a successful businessman. Just 27, Mirna had gone to university in Australia, but returned home in Indonesia, and got married in November, just two months before she died, in a beautiful Bali wedding.

NEWLYWED. Mirna Salihin had just married her boyfriend two months prior to her death. Photo from Facebook page of Mirna Salihin

Her death was initially dismissed as an accident, but in the days following her death, whispers of murder started to swirl, which culminated in the questioning of Jessica and her involvement in the death of her friend.

By January 30, Jessica was arrested and accused by police of premeditated murder, after an investigation and questioning.

Jessica is alleged to have put a fatal dose of cyanide in Mirna’s coffee, which caused her death.

Her murder trial began in June, and has been aired live all over Indonesia by major news networks. (READ: Suspect in murder trial featured in fashion piece, angers netizens)

Did Jessica truly murder her friend?

If found guilty by the court, Jessica could face up to 20 years in prison for premeditated murder. The verdict is due on Thursday, October 27.

Here’s what you need to know about the biggest murder trial in Indonesia today:

1. Why Jessica

VERDICT SOON. Jessica Kumala Wongso, accused of murdering her friend, could face up to 20 years in prison. Antara/M Agung Rajasa

The prosecution claims that Jessica’s behavior on the day of Mirna’s death was suspicious, alleging she planned the murder “meticulously.”

The timeline of events are as follows:

3:30 pm: Cafe Olivier’s CCTV cameras catch Jessica entering the cafe, about 90 minutes before she is scheduled to meet with her friends. She is seen looking around the restaurant, before exiting the cafe.

4:14 pm: Jessica returns to the cafe with 3 shopping bags carrying soap, supposedly gifts for her two friends and one for herself. She is captured by CCTV cameras as scanning the restaurant before choosing Table 54. Prosecutors allege this was Jessica’s way of choosing a table hidden from view of CCTV cameras. She then ordered drinks at the counter for her and her friends – an iced coffee and two cocktails.

4:24 pm: The drinks arrive at her table. On the CCTV, Jessica is seen putting the shopping bags on the table, covering the view of the coffee from the cameras. Prosecutors allege Jessica did this on purpose, to cover the crime. Prosecutors say it was between 4:30 and 4:45pm, when Jessica added cyanide to the iced coffee. She later removed the bags from the table.

5:18 pm: Mirna and Hani are seen arriving on the CCTV. Mirna takes a sip of her iced coffee, and is seen on camera making hand gestures to signal the coffee tasted awful. Hani takes a small sip and confirms it tastes off. Just two minutes later, Mirna becomes unconscious.

By 6pm, she was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

Mirna’s family and prosecutors also allege that while Mirna was unconscious, Jessica stood idly and quietly, a sharp contrast to a hysterical Hani – behavior they said, showed her guilt.

2. Prosecution’s argument

STRANGE BEHAVIOR. Jessica's strange behavior has been used by prosecutors as evidence against her. Photo by Antara

If Jessica did kill Mirna, then what was her motive?

Prosecutors and family allege that Jessica was angry at Mirna for badmouthing her ex-boyfriend, after which Jessica planned to kill her friend. Mirna allegedly advised Jessica to break up with her then Australian boyfriend for using drugs, angering Jessica. 

(READ: Trial begins for woman accused of killing her friend by poisoning her coffee)

While Jessica eventually broke up with her boyfriend, Mirna’s husband, Arif Sunarko, said Jessica had walked off after Mirna’s advice, and that Mirna soon grew “afraid” of Jessica. Arif said this was why Jessica was not invited to their wedding, and why Mirna never wanted to meet with Jessica alone.

Prosecutors allege Jessica then planned Mirna’s death from Australia where she lived, to “avenge her pain,” and immediately scheduled a meet up with Mirna once she returned to Indonesia.

Forensic tests also revealed that there was 298 mg of cyanide in Mirna’s coffee cup, which was enough to kill Mirna – something the prosecution points to as the cause of her death. Police also say there was some cyanide found in Mirna’s stomach.

DEVASTATED. Mirna's death came as a shock to her friends and family. Photo from Facebook group RIP Wayan Mirna Salihin

Aside from these, other evidence prosecutors used against Jessica include some information collected by Australian authorities, who helped out in the investigation since Jessica is a permanent resident there.

A New South Wales police officer shared police statements on some troubling behavior by Jessica which raised questions about her mental health. The statements included several suspected suicide attempts, criminal investigations against her, drunk driving instances, and a restraining order against her as requested by an ex-boyfriend.

Her former boss in Australia also testified about Jessica’s supposed split personality, and claims Jessica told her in October 2015, after a suicide attempt, “If I want to kill someone I know how.”

3. Argument of the defense

But the defense argues the motive is weak and that the case lacks evidence.

Jessica’s lawyers say it “does not make sense” for Jessica to fly from Australia just to kill Mirna, nor was Mirna’s supposed advice enough to spur Jessica to murder her friend.

Jessica also denied that Mirna even knew her ex-boyfriend’s name, nor did she share detailed information about her relationship to Mirna.

The defense also questioned why Hani was fine after sipping the same coffee, while Mirna died.

They raised the possibility of the barista or the Cafe Olivier staff as having spiked the coffee with cyanide – especially because no witnesses or CCTV footage saw Jessica put cyanide in her friend’s coffee.

WEAK EVIDENCE. The defense argues that the evidence is weak and insufficient to find Jessica guilty of murder. Photo by Antara

There is also no evidence of Jessica procuring the cyanide, or her having possessed cyanide at all. The defense highlighted that the prosecution has failed to say how, when or where Jessica got cyanide to allegedly kill her friend.

The defense also brought forensic experts to testify that there was no proof Mirna’s death was caused by cyanide poisoning. Experts from Australia testified there is no toxicological evidence for the ingesting of cyanide, and that while there was some cyanide found in her stomach, it was not enough to kill her.

HIGH-PROFILE TRIAL. The trial has dominated headlines and been aired live by major networks. Photo by AFP

They also pointed out that no cyanide was found in her other organs, and that the only conclusive way to determine if Mirna died of cyanide poisoning is through an autopsy.

Mirna’s family has refused an autopsy, citing religious reasons.

4. Verdict

The prosecution initially asked for death penalty for Jessica if found guilty, but Australian authorities said they would only cooperate in investigations if Jessica would not be put to death.

The prosecution has instead asked for 20 years in prison. – Rappler.com

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.