Maria Exposto arrives at court for a January 2015 hearing of her case. Picture: Reuters
Maria Exposto arrives at court for a January 2015 hearing of her case. Picture: Reuters

Aussie granny faces life or death verdict

A SYDNEY grandmother will find out later today if she is to be sentenced to death for attempting to traffic 1.5kg of methamphetamine through a Malaysian airport.

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, from Sydney's west, will face the Shah Alam High Court in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon to hear the verdict in her long-running drugs trial.

The 54-year-old was arrested three years ago with the drugs in her bag when she was transiting through Kuala Lumpur airport en route to Melbourne.

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She has lived under the shadow of death since then as her case as gone through the Malaysian court system, which has a mandatory death sentence, by hanging, for anyone found guilty of trafficking more than 50 grams of illegal drugs.

Exposto and her lawyers have argued that she was the victim of an online love scam and that she had no idea the 1.5kg of the drug ice was in the backpack she was asked to bring to Australia for a US serviceman she had met online.

The drugs were stitched inside a secret compartment of the backpack and were uncovered when she voluntarily offered her bag for search by Customs officials at the airport during a stopover when she opted to leave the airport, something she did not need to do.

During her trial Exposto told the court that she had fallen for a man she met online called Captain Daniel Smith, who she believed was a US soldier serving in Afghanistan. Exposto said that in September 2013 he had proposed marriage to her when her own marriage in Australia was going "a bit sour".

She said Smith sang to her a few times a day and sent her love poems and photos of himself. "He made me feel loved, he made me feel wanted", Exposto reportedly told the court.

Her lawyers have submitted that she was lured into carrying the bag, which she thought contained clothes and documents, by a friend of Smith's as she left Shanghai airport. She was reportedly overseas at the time, believing she was executing documents for Smith's retirement from the armed forces.

Her lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, said many women had probably been conned in similar circumstances by Captain Daniel Smith, who he described as a scammer.

Mr Abdullah and fellow lawyer Tania Scivetti are a top-flight legal team in Kuala Lumpur who have previously saved the lives of other Australians facing the death penalty in Malaysia on drugs charges.

In bad news for Exposto, the Malaysian parliament is moving to pass laws abolishing the mandatory death penalty for drugs, however the laws are yet to be officially gazetted.

Australians Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers were hanged in 1986 in Malaysia for heroin trafficking - the first Westerners hanged there. And in 1993 Australian Michael McAuliffe was also hanged after being caught with heroin at Penang airport.

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