MANDALUYONG, PHILIPPINES – In a court hearing on Wednesday, the attorney for two American hackers on trial for the killing of an American woman in the Philippines made multiple attempts to discredit a key witness in the case. Troy Woody and Mir Islam, former members of the UGNazi hacking crew, have been charged with murder in the death of Tomi Masters, Woody’s then-girlfriend.
The witness, a ride-hail driver, accused Woody and Islam of dumping Masters’ body in Pasig River in December 2018. The driver testified that he picked up Woody and Islam in a condominium building in Mandaluyong, in Metro Manila, last December. He said the pair loaded a box the size of a refrigerator inside his car, and told him it contained flowers. He drove them to a mall in Manila, near where Islam was renting an apartment. Upon reaching their destination, he says Islam asked if he could take them to Pasig River, saying that “they wanted to see it before they leave” and that they would just pay him additionally on top of the fixed rate.
During the cross-examination, Woody and Islam’s attorney, Gil Valera, asked if the driver's motive was to pocket a $22 tip without reporting it to the company he was working for. The judge and prosecutor objected to the relevance of the question. “It is dishonest,” Valera replied. (BuzzFeed News reached out to a representative of the ride-hailing company, who said the tip was acceptable.)
Valera also asked the witness why he took two foreigners to Baseco, Manila, a low-income community near the harbor, in the dead of night. Pasig River stretches for 15 miles and runs through five cities within Metro Manila. The witness responded that it was where the navigation app on his GPS showed him to go.
The defense also filed a motion for the case to be dismissed on the basis of improper venue, as the death certificate states that the place of death is Baseco, Manila, where Masters' body was retrieved. However, the murder case against Woody and Islam was filed in Mandaluyong, the site of the condominium unit where the pair were seen in a CCTV footage loading a box inside the witness's car. Police arrested Woody and Islam in Manila.
"For me, it was dismissible based on paper," Valera told BuzzFeed News after the trial. "They are presuming that the person was killed in Mandaluyong."
Masters died of asphyxiation by suffocation, according to a forensic document acquired by BuzzFeed News. Her death certificate does not state the time of death.
Woody said that Masters and Islam did not get along, so he left to work with Islam on their company, Luxr LLC. Islam and Woody claim that they were together in Islam’s apartment when Masters was killed, working on their computers. "We could not have been there when she died," Islam said during an interview with BuzzFeed News. The pair have offered multiple accounts of how Masters died.
In 2012, Islam was found guilty of obtaining stolen credit cards in a sting operation conducted by the FBI. "I was bored," Islam told BuzzFeed News of the carding operation. "At the time, I did not really care about anything that was criminal — it did not seem criminal to me. Things have changed. I’ve changed. I do not have the same logic anymore."
Woody and Islam were part of UGNazi, a hacking collective that Islam describes as internet activists, claiming he founded UGNazi to combat an internet censorship bill in the US. The group later became infamous for swatting, stealing credit card information, and publishing private data of celebrities and politicians.
Mir Islam violated his parole and left the US using his brother’s passport. In a previous interview, he told BuzzFeed News he picked the Philippines because of Paul Le Roux, a programmer and international drug kingpin who ran his operations in the country for years before being arrested. "He is someone that I respect," Islam said. According to Wired, Islam and Le Roux were imprisoned in the same facility in New York, and Islam refers to Le Roux as his father.
The next trial date is set for December.