HongKong ex-Banker Rurik Jutting pleads not guilty to murder of two Indonesian women

HongKong,Oct24:The trial of a British banker suspected of murdering two Indonesian women in his luxury Hong Kong apartment almost exactly two years ago began here on Monday.

Appearing stoic and drastically thinner than he was when he was first arrested, Rurik Jutting, 31 pleaded not guilty at the High Court to twin charges of murder by reason of “diminished responsibility” but admitted to being guilty of manslaughter — a plea rejected by prosecutors. He also pleaded guilty to the unlawful disposal of a body.

In the early hours of Nov. 1, 2014, Jutting called the police to his luxury apartment tower in Hong Kong’s neon-lit Wan Chai district, where they found the bodies of two women. The first, 28-year-old Seneng Mujiasih, also known as Jesse Lorena, was naked on the floor of the residence, and had reportedly suffered grievous cut wounds to the neck and buttocks; the second, 23-year-old Sumarti Ningsih, had been dead for days, mutilated and stuffed into a suitcase. Scenes of alleged torture had apparently been filmed on Jutting’s iPhone.

Sumarti, from Cilacap, a town in southern Java, was a single mother. Seneng was from Indonesia’s Southeastern Sulawesi province, working illegally in Hong Kong. She took various odd jobs to earn the cash to help her mother buy a house.

In November 2014, there was a larger news story in Hong Kong competing for headline space — the three-month-long pro-democracy demonstrations known interchangeably as Occupy Central or the Umbrella Revolution — but the murders all the same gripped this town and its international press corps in it.

Lurid stories followed of Hong Kong’s overworked, overpaid bankers supposedly self-medicating with a diet of alcohol, cocaine, and purchased sex. The Wan Chai neighborhood — where the sex workers there are predominately migrant workers from all over Southeast Asia and parts of Africa — became internationally infamous for seediness and debauchery.

The truth, of course, is more nuanced. Sex workers in bikini tops and tiny hot pants haunt Lockhart Road’s notorious bars and dance clubs, but a couple of blocks south are fashionable restaurants and expensive apartment buildings (starting rentals in the building where Jutting lived stood at around $2,800 a month in 2014). Sex is for sale — but so is everything from champagne brunch to ballet classes.

Neither is there any suggestion that Seneng and Sumarti were sex workers per se. Both had arrived in Hong Kong as low-paid domestic workers.

Strapped for cash, mired in debt to rapacious employment agencies, or simply wishing to earn more, some migrant workers take on other kinds of work, from other cleaning jobs to washing dishes or waitressing in restaurants or, in a comparatively few cases, selling sex. Sometimes they do all of the above, moving fluidly between the lives of sex worker, migrant worker and illegal alien.

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Tengku Bahar—AFP/Getty ImagesIndonesian migrant workers hold up placards during a vigil for slain colleagues Seneng Mujiasih and Sumarti Ningsih on the eve of the murder trial for British banker Rurik Jutting, in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Oct. 23, 2016

Jutting himself was a Cambridge-educated investment banker, but at the time of the murders, he was unemployed: he had reportedly resigned from Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s structured equity finance and trading division days before. The Guardian reported that he had left a chilling automated reply on his work email account: “I am out of the office. Indefinitely. For urgent enquiries, or indeed any enquiries, please contact someone who is not an insane psychopath. For escalation please contact God, though suspect the devil will have custody (Last line only really worked if I had followed through).”

Jutting has spent the past two years in police facilities on the outskirts of Hong Kong. His trial is expected to last 15 days, according to Michael Vidler, the attorney representing him.

The defendant arrived under partly cloudy skies Monday morning at Hong Kong’s High Court, where a group of Indonesian domestic workers had assembled in protest to demand justice for the murders. He wore a midnight-blue button-down shirt and appeared healthy. (Once a collegiate rower, the man photographed after his arrest two years ago was bloated, ruddy, and overweight.)

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Philippe Lopez—AFP/Getty ImagesBritish banker Rurik Jutting, charged with the grisly murders of two women, smiles as he sits in a prison van leaving the Eastern Court in Hong Kong on Nov. 10, 2014

After Jutting lodged his plea, barristers in the courtroom briefly sparred over the jurisprudence of “diminished responsibility.” Jutting claims that a personality disorder, as well as a struggle with cocaine and alcohol abuse, had impaired his judgment, thus warranting a lesser sentence of manslaughter.

The press corps — a scrum of Hong Kong-based reporters and writers from Fleet Street tabloids, which seized on the Jutting story two years ago — were then ushered from the courtroom to accommodate the hundreds of Hong Kong residents being considered for the trial’s jury.

“There is a particularly horrifying aspect to this case. One of the subjects was suspected to extreme violence and cruelty amounting to torture.” Judge Michael Stuart-Moore said to potential jurors.

Five Indonesian women wearing shirts that bore the word “Justice” were told to leave the courtroom’s public seats. “We don’t have demonstrations in court,” the judge said.

The trial continues.

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