'Chief of beggars' gets life imprisonment for murdering man in Geylang

'Chief of beggars' gets life imprisonment for murdering man in Geylang

Geylang murderer escorted
Toh Sia Guan is accused of murdering Goh Eng Thiam on Jul 9, 2016. (Photo: Justin Ong)

SINGAPORE: A man known in his neighbourhood as the "chief of the beggars" was sentenced to life imprisonment on Monday (Mar 2) for murdering a man four years ago.

This was after two fights between the two men, sparked by the accused's heckling of the victim for sex drugs.

Toh Sia Guan, a 67-year-old rag-and-bone man, had been found guilty of killing 52-year-old Goh Eng Thiam in Geylang after a trial.

Justice Aedit Abdullah on Monday sentenced Toh to life imprisonment after finding that the circumstances of the case did not require capital punishment.

The court heard that the victim was having breakfast at Victoria coffee shop in Lorong 23 Geylang on Jul 9, 2016, the morning of the murder.

Toh, who was known in Geylang as Hong Qigong, or chief of beggars in Chinese folklore, approached the victim while the victim was on the phone.

Toh heckled the victim for sex drugs, and the victim was frustrated, telling Toh: "Don't keep asking me!" and "I am not a drug peddler!".

This led to a fight. After scuffling, Toh ran off and bought a knife, before returning to the scene with it.

In his defence, Toh had claimed that he had returned to the scene to look for his bicycle, which he said the victim had snatched from him during the first fight.

READ: Geylang murder trial: Rag-and-bone man bought knife to stab victim after scuffle

The victim armed himself with a wooden stick and the pair engaged in a second fight, with Toh inflicting the fatal blow on the victim's arm with his knife.

After exchanging blows for almost two minutes, Toh fled the scene, taking off his top at a nearby car park and replacing it with a shirt he took from a clothesline.

A paramedic pronounced the victim dead at the scene that morning, and his cause of death was attributed to a V-shaped stab wound in his upper arm.

The prosecution did not call for the death sentence.

Defence lawyers Wong Seow Pin and Wong Li-Yen Dew of S P wong & Co and Dew Chambers urged the court not to impose the death sentence.

Mr Wong said the legal test for a death penalty is whether the offender's actions outraged the feelings of the community, adding that the actions have to show viciousness or blatant disregard for human life.

On top of this, the court must look at the nature of the crime and circumstances of the criminal, including his mental state and his role or participation in the attack.

Mr Wong said his client's case did not show viciousness or blatant disregard for human life, pointing to how the fatal injury was a single stab wound to the victim's arm.

"This fatal injury is inflicted in the course of the second fight, where both Mr Goh and Toh are giving to, as much as taking from, the other in punching and fighting each other," said the lawyer.

He added that the bloody scene should not distract the court, and that the court should instead examine the evidence and determine the facts.

In mitigating for his client, Mr Wong said Toh "is an old man of 64 then, 67 now", in poor health, as he has gallstones and other ailments.

He also has low IQ, with an "extremely low" speed of processing information.

Mr Wong finished by saying that Toh previously sustained himself by picking cardboard and cans for a living, sleeping in the park and sharing bread crumbs with birds.

"By the courts convicting him of murder, Toh loses any hope of sleeping in the park, listening to the birds sing and smelling the dew evaporating," he said. "Toh has lost his bicycle, his freedom and in prison will lose his life."

Toh told the court through the interpreter that he wanted to know if he can appeal. The judge gave him time to consult his defence lawyers after the hearing.

Source: CNA/ll(hm)