KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian judge will on Thursday (Aug 16) deliver a key ruling in the trial of two women accused of the assassination of the half-brother of North Korea's leader, with their families optimistic they will be cleared.
The court will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to support a murder charge against Siti Aisyah from Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam, who allegedly killed Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur airport.
If there is, the trial will continue with the court hearing the women's defence. But if not, the judge could acquit the women or amend the charge to something less serious than murder, which carries a mandatory death sentence in Malaysia.
Their families insist they did not carry out the Cold War-style hit that shocked the world, and were hopeful they would be acquitted.
Huong "could never be a killer as she had always been a charming, hard-working girl", Doan Van Thanh, the Vietnamese suspect's father, told AFP.
The women are accused of killing Kim Jong Nam - the estranged relative of the North's leader Kim Jong Un - by smearing toxic nerve agent VX on his face in February last year as he waited to board a flight to Macau.
The pair claim they fell victim to an elaborate murder plot hatched by North Korean agents, and believed they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show when they attacked Kim with a chemical classified as a weapon of mass destruction.
But describing the murder as something out of a James Bond movie, state prosecutors have argued the pair were well-trained assassins who knew exactly what they were doing.
The trial at the Shah Alam High Court, outside Kuala Lumpur, heard that four North Koreans recruited the pair and were the masterminds, providing them with the poison on the day of the murder before flying out of the country.
The women's defence teams have argued the pair are simply scapegoats, with the authorities unable to catch the real killers, the North Koreans, and therefore desperate to secure some kind of conviction in the case.
The lawyers are confident the pair will be acquitted of murder, insisting that prosecutors have not shown they intended to kill Kim, who was heir apparent to the North Korean leadership before he fell from grace and went on to live in exile.
If one or both of the women are cleared, they will not necessarily walk free immediately however. Prosecutors could seek to appeal the ruling, and the authorities could still hold them over alleged visa violations.