Women accused of murdering Kim Jong Un's half-brother plead not guilty

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Lawyers for two women accused of murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Tuesday low enzyme levels in his blood may have been caused by liver disease or hormone pills rather than a lethal nerve agent.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, a Vietnamese, are charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with VX, a chemical poison banned by the United Nations, at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13.

The women have pleaded not guilty, saying they thought they were involved in some sort of prank for a reality TV show. They face the death penalty if convicted.

Nor'ashikin Othman, a chemical pathologist with Kuala Lumpur Hospital, told the court outside Kuala Lumpur blood samples taken from the victim showed low levels of cholinesterase - an enzyme needed in muscle control - which "could be caused by exposure to poison such as insecticide or a nerve agent" such as VX or Sarin.

RELATED: Women accused of murdering Kim Jong Nam

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Two women accused of murdering Kim Jong Nam
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Two women accused of murdering Kim Jong Nam

Kim Jong Nam arrives at Beijing airport in Beijing, China, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 11, 2007.

(Kyodo/via REUTERS)

This combo shows a file photo (L) taken on May 4, 2001 of a man believed to be Kim Jong-Nam, son of the late-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, getting off a bus to board an All Nippon Airways plane at Narita airport near Tokyo and a file photo (R) of his half-brother, current North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, on a balcony of the Grand People's Study House following a mass parade in Pyongyang on May 10, 2016. The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who has been murdered in Malaysia, pleaded for his life after a failed assassination bid in 2012, lawmakers briefed by South Korea's spy chief said on February 15, 2017. Jong-Nam, the eldest son of the late former leader Kim Jong-Il, was once seen as heir apparent but fell out of favor following an embarrassing botched bid in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland.

(TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA,ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

Indonesian Siti Aisyah arrives at a court in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this photo taken by Kyodo on March 1, 2017. Malaysia on Wednesday charged Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader. Mandatory credit. Kyodo/via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, who is charged for the murder of Kim Jong Nam, is escorted by police as she leaves a Sepang court in Malaysia April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Gooi Soon Seng, the lawyer for Indonesian national Siti Aisyah, 25, speaks to journalists after a pre-trial procedure for the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un outside the Kajang Prison Complex in Kajang on June 16, 2017. Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, have been charged with the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February. / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong (C) is escorted by Malaysian police after a court appearance with Indonesian national Siti Aisyah (not pictured) at the magistrates' court in Sepang on April 13, 2017, for their alleged role in the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was assassinated in Malaysia on February 14. / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong (C) is escorted by Malaysian police after a court appearance with Indonesian national Siti Aisyah (not pictured) at the magistrates' court in Sepang on April 13, 2017, for their alleged role in the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was assassinated in Malaysia on February 14. / AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

A man (R) believed to be North Korean heir-apparent Kim Jong Nam, is escorted by police as he boards a plane upon his deportation from Japan at Tokyo's Narita international airport in Narita, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo May 4, 2001. 

(Kyodo/via REUTERS)

A man watches a television showing news reports of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, in Seoul on February 14, 2017. Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has been assassinated in Malaysia, South Korean media reported on February 14.

(JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on June 4, 2010 Kim Jong-Nam, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, waves after an interview with South Korean media representatives in Macau. Kim Jong-Nam was in the limelight with Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper carrying a snatched interview with him at a hotel in Macau. Jong-Nam declined knowledge of the warship incident, it reported, and said his father is 'doing well'. North Korean Leader Leader Kim Jong-Il on June 7 attended a rare second annual session of parliament at which Kim's brother-in-law was promoted and the country's prime minister was sacked, state media reported.

(JoongAng Sunday/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo taken on February 11, 2007 shows a man believed to be then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il's eldest son, Kim Jong-Nam (C), walking amongst journalists upon his arrival at Beijing's international airport. The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who has been murdered in Malaysia, pleaded for his life after a failed assassination bid in 2012, lawmakers briefed by South Korea's spy chief said on February 15, 2017.

(JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIJING, CHINA: A man believed to be the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Nam, answers Japanese reporters' questions at the Beijing International airport, 25 September 2004.

(JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

A man believed to be North Korean heir-apparent Kim Jong-nam emerges from a bus as he is escorted by Japanese authorities upon his deportation from Japan at Tokyo's Narita international airport May 4, 2001. Believed to be Kim Jong-nam, eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the man entered Japan with a forged passport on Tuesday, but was deported to China on Friday.

(Eriko Sugita / Reuters)

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But she agreed with the defense that low enzyme levels could also have been due to other causes such as liver disease or the taking of female hormones by a man.

"Yes, the enzyme levels could be slightly lower by the taking of hormone pills by a man," she said.

In response to a question, Nor'ashikin also said it was possible the accused had had no contact with VX whatsoever as their blood samples yielded normal levels of cholinesterase.

But they could have also been exposed to a low dose of the poison, washed their hands with soap and water or ingested an antidote, she said.

Siti and Huong are accused of smearing the deadly nerve agent on the victim's face and eyes. The trial has so far referred to the victim as Kim Chol, the name on the passport used by Kim Jong Nam.

The post mortem report, made available to the media, said that VX was detected on swabs of Kim Jong Nam's eyes and face, in the blood, plasma and urine.

The report described the victim's body as covered with tattoos. These include a large black tattoo on the chest of a man with two fish-like fingers, and one of "abstract-like motifs" on his upper right arm that extends to his upper back.

Police have also named four North Koreans as suspects in the case and an Interpol red notice, an international alert just short of an arrest warrant, has been issued for the four, who remain at large.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

RELATED: Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un

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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un
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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un

1. While Kim Jong Un's birthday on January 8 is a national holiday, it is unknown exactly how old the North Korean leader is. It's widely believed he is in his early-mid thirties. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department listed his birth year as 1984 when they placed sanctions on North Korea.

 (KCNA via REUTERS)

2. Kim Jong Un is the world's youngest leader, according to the date listed by the Treasury. 

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Kim Jong Un is very passionate about basketball. He is reportedly a big fan of Michael Jordan and has a friendly relationship with Jordan's former Chicago Bulls teammate Dennis Rodman. Rodman has visited the secluded nation multiple times and even sang him "Happy Birthday" before an exhibition game in Jan. 2014. 

(REUTERS/KCNA)

4. Kim Jong Un reportedly has a love for smoking, whiskey and cheese

(KCNA/via Reuters)

5. Kim Jong Un's older half-brother Kim Jong Nam was killed in Feb. 2017 by two women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. The women were arrested following his death. Many believe the hit was directed by North Korea. 

(KCNA; REUTERS)

6. Kim Jong Un has two college degrees. One is in physics from Kim il Sung University and another as an Army officer obtained from the Kim Il Sung Military University.

(KCNA/REUTERS)

7. Kim Jong Un attended boarding school in Switzerland. It is widely disputed how much time he spent at the school. Most reports say he was abroad from 1998-2000. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

8. Kim Jong Un is the only general in the world that does not have any military experience. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

9. He married Ri Sol Ju in 2009. The couple has at least one daughter named Ju Ae. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

10. Kim Jong Un had his uncle Jang Song Thaek arrested and executed for treachery in 2013. 

(REUTERS/Kyodo)

11. Kim Jong Un hand selected North Korea's first all-female music group -- Moranbong Band. They made their debut in 2012. 

(ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

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(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff, Writing by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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