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Malaysia court sentences Australian woman to death for drug-trafficking

Malaysia court sentences Australian woman to death for drug-trafficking

An Australian grandmother who claims she was tricked into smuggling drugs into the country after falling for an online romance scam was today sentenced to death.

A three-judge panel unanimously threw out the previous ruling in 54-year-old Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto's case, her lawyers told CNN.

She was acquitted in December past year of drug trafficking charges, however the prosecution appealed.

The 54-year-old Australian grandmother had traveled to China in 2014 in hopes of meeting her boyfriend, a man she had met online years before who claimed to be Capt. Daniel Smith, a US service member.

Late past year, parliament voted to remove the death penalty as mandatory punishment for drug trafficking, and leave it to judges' discretion instead.

Exposto's lawyer, Shafee Abdullah, responded, telling the court that Exposto was an innocent carrier hoodwinked by an internet romance scam. However, prosecutors appealed the decision, which effectively barred her from returning home to Sydney.

She had claimed she was the victim of a set-up after she was found with the drugs in her bag after arriving on a flight from China in 2014. "The only sentence under law is death by hanging", the judges found.

"He [Smith] made me feel loved, he made me feel wanted", she told the court, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, adding that the boyfriend often sang to her and sent her photos and poems.

"I'm happy now that I'm free", Exposto said at the time, according to AFP.

Two Australians were hanged in Malaysia in 1986 for heroin trafficking - the first Westerners to be executed in the country - in a case that strained relations. When Westerners are caught by the laws, officials in the region say, they can not expect a double standard to apply.

There are at least 900 people on death row in Malaysia, officials have said, but executions have been rare in recent years.

"I can confirm a notice of appeal has been filed with the court", a lawyer with Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who represents Exposto, told AAP.

AFP reported that changes to the death penalty have not yet taken effect, as they must be approved by the upper house of Malaysia's parliament.

In 2013 Dominic Bird, a former truck driver from Perth, was acquitted of drug trafficking charges after he was allegedly caught with 167 grams of crystal methamphetamine.

Defence lawyers previously argued that Exposto's willingness to put her bag through a security scanner shows she did not know the drugs were there.

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