Singapore begins inquiry in American scientist's hanging death

Evidence presented Monday in a Singapore investigation revealed a U.S. software engineer was unhappy at work and had written suicide notes before he died last year in what his parents insist was a murder.

Software engineer Shane Truman Todd, 31, was found hanging from a black strap secured to a door and had no visible signs of injury on his body except redness on his forearms and legs, the state counsel's opening statement said. The strap was fashioned into a noose, and a white towel also was around his neck.

Police found no signs of forced entry into the apartment, but they did find links to suicide websites on his laptop and suicide letters written to Todd's family members and loved ones.

Parents Rick and Mary Todd, who attended the inquest, told The Associated Press in March they consider the evidence fake. They believe he may have been murdered over his research in the U.S. into material used to make heat-resistant semiconductors, a technology with both civilian and military applications.

Rick Todd said his son in early 2012 had expressed concerns to his parents that he was being asked to compromise U.S. security. But he said Shane Todd wasn't specific.

His parents traveled from their home in the U.S. state of Montana to Singapore days after his death last June and found his belongings packed as if he intended to leave for good and saw no signs of a hanging, such as marks on the door. Mary Todd also said the alleged suicide note was obviously fake because it thanked the Institute of Microelectronics, the former employer he had grown to hate, and had other false details.

Todd's parents had sought for the FBI to lead the investigation into the scientist's death, though the status of any assistance it has provided is classified.

The first witness at the coroner's inquest was Todd's girlfriend, a Filipino nurse working in Singapore who discovered his body. Shirly Sarmiento testified Shane had often confided in her about his suspected depression and that he had mounting unhappiness with the "dishonest environment" in his workplace. She also mentioned he feared "heavy hands coming after him."

Todd's parents were somber throughout the proceedings, occasionally getting up to speak with their lawyers.

At least 36 witnesses will be called to testify during the coroner's inquest, including personal friends, IME colleagues and forensic doctors.

The inquest is expected to last 12 days, and its conclusions cannot be appealed.

While his parents were in Singapore, they found a hard drive missed by investigators that contained thousands of documents Todd had backed up from his work computer. After having it analyzed by a computer forensics expert, they found a draft of a project outline between IME and the Chinese telecom giant Huawei on the development of an amplifier device that utilized gallium nitride.

The heat-resistant material has civilian uses in products like LED screens and cellphone towers and military applications in things like radar and satellite systems. Todd had been trained in the U.S. on proprietary equipment that produces the material but is restricted for export because of the potential military applications.

Huawei has said it had no cooperation with IME related to gallium nitride.