KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A Malaysian high court found Wednesday that a coroner erred in ruling that the death of a French-Irish teenager whose body was found near a jungle resort was likely due to a misadventure that didn't involve other people.
High Court Judge Azizul Azmi Adnan agreed with Nora Anne Quoirin's parents that it would not have been likely for the 15-year-old to venture out on her own, navigate the steep terrain and evade detection for days due to her mental and physical disabilities.
He ruled that “the verdict of misadventure ought to be vacated in the interest of justice and substituted with an open verdict," which would mean there was suspicion of foul play but inadequate proof.
The ruling is a legal victory for Nora's parents, who believe she was likely kidnapped and had appealed the coroner’s verdict, issued in January. They listened to the online verdict from their home in London.
“We still feel that the circumstances surrounding Nora’s death were suspicious," the teen’s mother, Meabh Quoirin, told Irish broadcaster RTE Radio. "But in terms of what’s legally available to us, an open verdict was incredibly important in our quest for justice for Nora, and that’s what we got today.”
The teen disappeared at the Dusun eco-resort in southern Negeri Sembilan state on Aug. 4, 2019, a day after the family arrived for a vacation. After a massive search, her body was found on Aug. 13 beside a stream on a palm oil estate about 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) from the resort.
The coroner had ruled out homicide, natural death and suicide and said she likely got lost after leaving her family’s cottage on her own, and that no one else was involved. Police have said there was no evidence of foul play, but her parents said she wouldn't have wandered off on her own.
They told the inquest that a third party could have dumped her body in the area following the search for her. The coroner had described the family’s suggestions as “nothing more than probably theory” with no evidence.
Nora was wearing only underwear when she went missing at nighttime, but her body was found naked. The coroner noted the family’s contention that this gave credence to the possibility of sexual assault but said an extensive autopsy found no such proof or evidence of a struggle or smothering. The coroner also said there were no suspicious circumstances prior to the teenager’s disappearance, no ransom request and no signs of intrusion into the family’s cottage.
To get from the resort to the place where her body was found, Judge Azizul said Nora would have had to cross rocky streams and navigate hilly roads in terrain that is challenging even for well-equipped adults. He noted she was shy, attached to her parents and not a curious child.
“I am willing to accept that on the evidence before the court the possibility of third party involvement was lower than the possibility that Nora Anne had somehow inadvertently gotten herself into a situation from which she could not extricate herself," he said.
“That does not mean however, that I should enter a verdict of misadventure ... given the evidence that was before the court, I fail to see how it could have been said that it was more probable than not that Nora Anne had died as a result of misadventure," he said.
The family had cited unidentified fingerprints on the outside of a window in their cottage that was found open on the morning of her disappearance, the initial failure of hundreds of trained rescuers to find her, and police dogs unable to follow her scent. They feared possible DNA evidence was lost because of the lapsed time and the finding of her body in water, and noted a lack of major physical damage to her body that would have been likely from walking through the rough terrain.
They also said the possibility of sexual assault remained, even though there was no evidence of violent assault, and that her highly submissive nature ruled out any struggle.
A British pathologist who performed a second autopsy on her body in the United Kingdom testified that he agreed with the Malaysian findings that she died of intestinal bleeding due to starvation and stress. However, he said he couldn’t fully rule out sexual assault due to severe body decomposition.