SINGAPORE: A brothel owner who was sentenced to death two years ago for murdering a pimp over money was spared the noose and given life imprisonment instead on Tuesday (Jul 30).
The Court of Appeal granted Chan Lie Sian, 54, his appeal against the death sentence for bludgeoning 35-year-old William Tiah Hung Wai with a dumbbell rod on Jan 14, 2014, over S$6,500 that he believed the victim had stolen from his pocket.
The pimp suffered multiple skull fractures and had bone fragments embedded in his brain from the onslaught, and died later in hospital.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Tuesday said he and Appeal Judges Judith Prakash and Andrew Phang found that Chan did not have the specific intention to kill the victim.
He had been convicted of murder with the intention of causing death, which draws the death penalty.
The court amended his conviction to murder with the intention to cause bodily injury likely to cause death, which can be punished either with death or life imprisonment and caning.
Chan cannot be caned as he is over 50.
HE HAD EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO KILL VICTIM, BUT HE DID NOT: CHIEF JUSTICE
Explaining the court's decision, Chief Justice Menon said it is well established that an accused person has to have the specific intention to kill the victim in order to be convicted of murder with intention of causing death.
"In our judgment, he didn't have the specific intention to kill the victim," said the chief justice.
"With no witnesses around and with the victim lying helpless on the bed, the appellant had every opportunity to bring any such intention to kill to fruition. Yet, he did not do so even though the victim was clearly alive."
The death penalty is warranted when the actions of the accused exhibit "viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life", said Chief Justice Menon.
"The court was not satisfied that the manner in which the appellant acted evinced that blatant disregard for human life," he said.
"First, the court found that the appellant was not aware at the time of the attack or in its immediate aftermath, of the fatal nature of the victim’s injuries. Indeed, the appellant’s unchallenged testimony was that he did not know that the injuries were so severe as to be likely to cause the victim’s death."
Chan had left the victim unconscious on the floor of an illegal brothel in Geylang after hitting him several times on his head and body with a metal rod.
Chan's lawyer Wendell Wong had told the Court of Appeal that his client had wanted to teach the victim, whom he viewed as a "brother", a lesson for stealing money from him.
Chan told other witnesses about what had happened and splashed a pail of water on the victim, shouting vulgarities at him and accusing him of pretending to be dead.
If Chan had attacked the victim to kill him, his attempts to revive him and accuse him of feigning death would make no sense, said Chief Justice Menon.
CONVICTED OF MURDER UNDER DIFFERENT LIMB
The judges were satisfied that Chan fulfilled all three ingredients of murder with the intention to cause bodily injury likely to cause death.
They rejected Chan's defence, argued by Mr Wong, of sudden fight.
This was because there are three elements for the defence of sudden fight to stand: That there was a sudden fight in the heat of passion, an absence of premeditation, and an absence of undue advantage or cruel or unusual acts.
In Chan's case, he had undue advantage over the victim, given that he was armed with a weapon, and had an advantage over him in his physique, said the judges.
Chan was not aware of the fatal nature of the victim's injuries, said Chief Justice Menon, and his testimony that he did not know the injuries were so severe was unchallenged and consistent with his conduct at the time.
He said he would attack the victim again when he came to, and surrendered to the police as he thought it had not been fatal.
Indeed, he had initially been charged with voluntarily causing grievous hurt with a dangerous weapon before his charge was switched to one of murder following the pimp's death in hospital.
For the court to impose the death penalty, the prosecution has to establish that the actions of the offender have outraged the feelings of the community, and this would be the case where these actions exhibit viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life, the court heard.
"Having reviewed the evidence, we are not satisfied that the prosecution has established that additional element," said Chief Justice Menon.
"We therefore allow the appeal and set aside the death penalty and impose a sentence of life imprisonment instead."