SINGAPORE: A man convicted of murdering his mistress and burning her body over three days was sentenced to life imprisonment on Monday (Aug 19), three years after strangling the 31-year-old woman in his car at Gardens by the Bay.
Leslie Khoo Kwee Hock, 51, was spared the gallows and cannot be caned as he is over 50.
This was the second case in Singapore's legal history where an offender was convicted of murder in the absence of a body.
The first was the case of Sunny Ang, who killed his girlfriend in 1963 in a diving incident to collect on her insurance. He was hanged four years later.
"While this honourable court has found the accused guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, his absolute disposal of the body hampers the consideration of his appropriate sentence," said Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair and Deputy Public Prosecutors Tan Wen Hsien, Sarah Shi and Stephanie Koh.
The prosecution in their submissions said the court's decision was a binary one - either the death penalty or a sentence of life imprisonment.
"While the accused's actions are undoubtedly reprehensible, there is some doubt as to whether they meet the legal requirements for the imposition of the death penalty," said the prosecutors. "The accused should be given the benefit of that doubt."
Justice Audrey Lim said she was not satisfied that this was a case that warranted the imposition of the death penalty, noting that the prosecution was also not seeking it.
"The court of appeal … stated that the death sentence is the final and terminal sentence an offender can suffer, and should only be imposed after the most anxious consideration," said the judge.
While she had found that Khoo had "no doubt" possessed a motive to silence the victim to rid himself of the threat she posed, she "did not consider that what he had done warranted the imposition of the death penalty".
"Evidence did not suggest that Leslie planned to kill the deceased when he first met up with her on Jul 12, 2016," said the judge. "Leslie was likely caught unawares that the deceased had seriously intended to confront his bosses on that day. Indeed his plan was to attempt to dissuade her from so doing."
There was also no evidence to show that Khoo's acts were brutal or vicious, said the judge, and neither was there any evidence that it was a sustained onslaught.
She had found that the prosecution had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt over an 11-day trial.
Khoo strangled Chinese national Ms Cui Yajie on Jul 12, 2016, in the front passenger seat of his car, before burning her body over three days at a deserted road along Lim Chu Kang.
Her body was never recovered, and only some hair, a brassiere hook and bits of fabric matching the dress she had worn that day were found at the scene.
Khoo was arrested after police found that he was the last person who interacted with Ms Cui. He led officers first to Gardens by the Bay, before taking them to what was left of Ms Cui's remains at Lim Chu Kang.
When he took them there, he smiled and told them that there was nothing left, according to the prosecution.
Over the course of the trial, the court heard accounts of how Khoo, who worked at a laundry outlet, presented an image of himself as a divorcee who owned a laundry business.
Ms Cui, an engineer, had been on the verge of exposing Khoo's lies about his marriage and his job, and had been chasing him to return her S$10,000 for "investment" in gold.
Khoo's defence lawyers Mervyn Cheong, Andy Yeo and Chooi Jing Yen had tried to prove that he had diminished responsibility, acted on grave and sudden provocation or that a sudden fight had broken out.
However, the judge rejected the arguments, although she accepted that he had developed a lifetime diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder, but said it had not manifested at the time of the crime or impaired his mind.
For murder with the intention of causing such bodily injury as he knew to be likely to kill Ms Cui, Khoo could have been sentenced to death.
Khoo faces several other charges of cheating and embezzlement involving more than S$88,000 in the State Courts. He is set to return to the lower courts in September for those charges to be heard.