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NOTHING SUSPICIOUS ABOUT SHOOTING: U.S. SPECIALISTS

2004-03-29 23:04:56

    Taipei, March 29 (CNA) Three specialists who came to Taiwan from the United States to help investigate the election-eve shooting of President Chen Shui-bian said Monday that there is nothing suspicious about the shooting judging from the information they had collected so far.

    Accompanied by members of a special team formed to investigate the shooting, the trio -- Dr. Cyril Wecht, an acclaimed forensic pathologist; Michael G. Haag, a forensic firearms expert with U.S. Forensic Science Consultants, Inc.; and Timothy Palmbach, a crime scene investigative specialist -- went to Tainan in the south of the country to visit the scene of the shooting and the Chi Mei Medical Center, where Chen and Vice President Annette Lu, both of whom were slightly injured, were taken for treatment.

    At Chi Mei, they read the medical treatment records for Chen and Lu on the afternoon of March 19, as well as examining X-rays and scans and discussing the treatment with doctors there.

    They initially determined that the wound examined by the ER doctors was fresh when he arrived at the hospital. Chen suffered a 2 cm wide, 11 cm long wound when a bullet grazed his lower abdomen, while another bullet scratched Lu's right knee.

    Wecht stressed that he will not draw any conclusion until he has conducted further studies in his U.S. laboratory, but after viewing photos of the wounds provided by the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) , and with the information provided by Chi Mei, he initially determined that it was very likely a fresh gunshot wound.

    Questioned why the president could still walk and even make phone calls, Wecht pointed out that the bullet only grazed fatty tissue and did not cause massive bleeding.

    It was not a serious wound and anyone would be able to move freely upon sustaining similar wounds, he said, adding that nothing about the hospital's treatment was strange or suspicious.

    Wecht said that they would take the information provided by the CIB and Chi Mei back to the United States to compare the wounds, bloodstains and bullets recovered to see if they match with the information provided by the Chi Mei doctors.

    The investigation results will be brought back to Taiwan April 12 by Henry Lee, a noted Chinese-American forensic expert who Taiwan's State Public Prosecutor-General Lu Ren-fa has invited to conduct a forensic investigation into the shooting. Lee could not come earlier because of other engagements and instead sent the trio to Taiwan for the one-day visit.

    They praised the CIB for its open and forthright manner and said they were provided with all the information they need. They noted that all the members of the team are highly trained, which was a far cry from the way the U.S. government handled the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Wecht was one of the members of the autopsy panel of the late U.S. president.

    But Wecht also said that although the CIB has provided clear pictures of Chen's wound, he still hopes to see the wound himself, but the CIB has not complied with his request so far.

    The pictures of Chen's wound were unveiled last week to dispel any doubts surrounding the shooting, which some have speculated was self-staged to win sympathy votes in the bitterly contested election that saw Chen win re-election by a razor-thin margin of 29,518 votes out of a total of 13 million votes against his rival, Lien Chan, candidate of the "pan-blue alliance."

    The president and vice president were shot while riding in an open-top jeep on a street in Tainan. The roadway was lined with supporters during the last day of campaigning and the attackers managed to get off at least two shots unnoticed in the roar of firecrackers, smoke and excited distraction of the crowds lining Chen's route.

    The supporters of the "pan-blue alliance" have called for an independent investigation into the shooting, which they suspect tilted the outcome of the election in Chen's favor.

(By Lilian Wu)

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