When the trial of Rurik Jutting, the former British banker charged with the murder of two Indonesian women in his Hong Kong apartment in October 2014, began last week, presiding judge Michael Stuart-Moore described the case as an unusual one. There is no dispute of whether or not Jutting killed the women, 23-year-old Sumarti Ningsih and 26-year-old Seneng Mujiasih: a lion’s share of the presented evidence is video footage Jutting recorded of himself on his iPhone in the hours and days after the murders, in which he confessed to taking their lives and rambled about his motives, gratuitous drug use and dark sexual fantasies.
But the 31-year-old Jutting, who formerly worked in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s structured equity division, has pleaded not guilty to the murders, instead seeking the reduced charge of manslaughter because of “diminished responsibility” — the confluence of personality disorders that prevented him from acting rationally at the time of the killings. The defense began making its case this week by rendering a thorough portrait of Jutting’s psychological history.
The defense’s witnesses on the stand have been expert forensic psychologists and psychiatrists who have argued that Jutting suffers from narcissistic personality disorder and sexual-sadism disorder. In the fall of 2014, they said, these disorders were so exacerbated by cocaine and alcohol abuse that he was impelled to act on macabre sexual fantasies — kidnapping, torturing and executing the two women.
The elements of this narrative have been chilling. According to these experts, Jutting’s adult life was marked by a gradual descent into drug abuse, an obsession with violent pornography and increasingly erratic professional behavior. The court heard that Jutting was moved by Bank of America Merrill Lynch from London to Hong Kong in September 2013, allegedly because of a dubious tax project he undertook in London that brought the bank under scrutiny.
It was during his year working in the former British colony that he suffered what has been called a “breakdown.” He binged on cocaine, alcohol and Red Bull and solicited sex workers who indulged his violent fantasies. Under the influence of cocaine, the court heard that he sometimes proposed marriage to these individuals and often funneled money into their bank accounts. He withdrew from his work, at one point telling his office that he had HIV as an excuse for missing a meeting.
The defense and its witnesses have argued that at the time when he killed Sumarti and Seneng, he lacked the facilities to control his judgment.
The prosecution has not held back in aggressively challenging this. When pressed Tuesday by prosecutor John Reading during cross-examination to give a concrete answer on Jutting’s culpability, one of the defense’s experts, British psychologist Derek Perkins, faltered.
“His capacity to form intent at the time was affected by … the combination of substance use, lack of sleep and sadistic urges,” Perkins said. The prosecutor asked, “But did he have the capacity or not?”
“I’m not sure I can answer it in the way you put it — in a dichotomous yes or no,” Perkins replied.
Perkins was the last of the defense’s witnesses. On Wednesday morning, the prosecution brought forward a Hong Kong–based psychiatrist, Dr. Kavin Chow, to challenge the defense’s argument. Chow, who interviewed Jutting for several hours during his incarceration before the trial, questioned Jutting’s diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, which manifests itself in both a grandiose sense of self-importance and a deep, disproportionate sensitivity to criticism.
“In my view, Mr. Jutting did suffer from traits of a narcissistic personality but not at the level of disorder,” Chow said.
More critically, she rejected the suggestion that Jutting lacked personal agency when he killed the two women. She pointed to the personal narratives he recorded on his iPhone immediately after killing them, in which he spoke of his actions in a fluent and measured manner.
“Given all of his calm and rational judgments immediately before and after the killings, it shows he was able to make his own decisions,” she said. “Despite the presence of abnormality, it didn’t substantially impair his mental responsibility.”
The trial is expected to conclude early next week.
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