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Man gets life imprisonment and caning for murdering fellow jogger in Punggol during 'circuit breaker'

The victim, who was stabbed while jogging along Punggol Field Road, was killed "senselessly", said the prosecutor.

Man gets life imprisonment and caning for murdering fellow jogger in Punggol during 'circuit breaker'
A cordoned-off area along Punggol Field on May 11, 2020, as police investigate the murder of a jogger. (Photo: Ian Cheng)

SINGAPORE: A man who stabbed a stranger to death during the COVID-19 "circuit-breaker" period in 2020 while they were both jogging has been sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane.

Surajsrikan Diwakar Mani Tripathi, 22, pleaded guilty on Thursday (Sep 15) to one count of murdering 38-year-old Tay Rui Hao.

The court heard that Surajsrikan was jobless at the time. Both he and Mr Tay lived in Punggol but did not know each other.

At about 10pm on May 10, 2020, both men left their homes for a run. This was during the circuit breaker when people were not allowed to leave their houses for non-essential activities although exercise was allowed.

Tay had started jogging two to three times a week since the start of the circuit breaker, while Surajsrikan was a regular runner.

May 10 was a significant date for Surajsrikan, the court heard, as it was the date his father had abandoned his family and it was also the date of his enlistment into National Service. The memory of the date caused him to be frustrated and angry.

When Surajsrikan left his home, he brought along a Singapore Armed Forces-issued Swiss folding knife with a 9cm-long blade, serrated on one edge, and a wet wipe.

While Surajsrikan was running, he missed his footing and fell near a bus stop along Punggol Field Road. He paced around for five to 10 minutes to work off his anger.

Mr Tay jogged past at about 11.10pm. Surajsrikan's anger "overtook" him, the court heard. He unfolded his knife, chased after Mr Tay and stabbed him forcefully in the back. 

Surajsrikan then stabbed and slashed the victim's arm and abdominal area when the victim was trying to sit up.

He wiped the blood off his knife and kept it, continuing to clean his hands as he walked back towards a block of flats. He did not call the police or an ambulance.

Surajsrikan wandered around the neighbourhood for about one-and-a-half hours before discarding the wet wipe and heading home at around 12.30am. He told his family he returned home late as he had fallen down while jogging and kept his knife in his cupboard.

The victim called 995. Paramedics found him bleeding on the grass. He was initially alert but lost consciousness later. He died early the next morning.

Surajsrikan was identified through police cameras that showed him wandering around the neighbourhood with a knife. He was arrested and the knife was recovered.

An autopsy on the victim uncovered 10 external injuries comprising incised wounds, abrasions and a deep gaping wound in a muscle. His cause of death was determined to be incised wounds of the right radial artery and a lung. 

Surajsrikan's DNA and blood were found on the knife as well as swabs lifted from his shoes. It is undisputed that he intentionally inflicted the injuries during his assault on the victim, of which two were sufficient to cause death.

ACCUSED'S MENTAL DISORDERS

Surajsrikan was examined and found to suffer from severe social anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. These had crippling effects on his life, leading to low mood and anger, but he did not qualify for a depressive disorder.

He was previously found to have borderline to low intelligence, but was not found to be intellectually disabled nor suffering from any psychotic disorder. The date of the killing exacerbated his chronic anger, the court heard.

However, his actions were not directly caused by his disorders, and he was not of unsound mind at the time of the offence.

Surajsrikan has no previous convictions. Deputy Public Prosecutors Andre Chong and Han Ming Kuang said they did not object to life imprisonment for Surajsrikan.

They asked also for 24 strokes of the cane should he receive life imprisonment. Mr Chong cited the following factors: Surajsrikan acted with premeditation rather than impulse, as he took a knife and wet wipe with him on the run.

VICTIM KILLED "SENSELESSLY" 

Surajsrikan killed the victim "senselessly, simply to vent his anger over his own circumstances", said Mr Chong, and in a brutal manner with multiple stabs.

The victim was a stranger to him and was simply going about his own business, said Mr Chong. Surajsrikan continued to stab him even after the victim tried to get up, and there is a lack of remorse in his conduct after the offence.

Surajsrikan was traced and arrested only six days later, and the offence took place in the middle of the circuit breaker period, causing "substantial public disquiet", said Mr Chong.

Defence lawyer Edmond Pereira concurred with the imposition of a life sentence, but asked the judge not to impose caning.

"To begin with, the accused person and in particular his family wish to express great remorse, regret and sadness for the passing of the deceased," he said.

He urged the court to consider that it was not a premeditated act but one of impulse.

"When he left home, he did not have any target in mind. His intention then was to harm himself, and in the end, he did not, and the circumstances that triggered him ... (are) again not something he had planned earlier, so it's something we submit happened out of impulse," said Mr Pereira.

He added that the date of the offence was very significant.

"At the time of offending he was 20 years old. He (did) not have any gainful employment, did not do well in education. As we have highlighted, he dropped out of school and he has this anxiety concern about crowds or being in the company of people, so he kept very much to himself, even when he was at home, he didn't like to hear noises, even from the neighbours or even family talking loud, so he would keep to himself in his room and the door closed," said Mr Pereira.

He said that even today in remand, Surajsrikan is in isolation in a single cell.

"(I) don't know if he's ever going to get better, if at all, but that wouldn't bring the life of the deceased back, and that's something he's told us is haunting him," said the lawyer.

"He (asked) himself, why did he do it, why not harm himself. He had thoughts of harming himself because he felt useless that he was not helping the family."

Mr Pereira added that the date "triggered" him as it was the date Surajsrikan's father - whom he has never met - left his family. It was also the day he was enlisted in NS.

"His stint was quite short because of his behaviour, he was medically downgraded and subsequently discharged from SAF," said the lawyer.

Justice Dedar Singh Gill said Surajsrikan's sentence "will not bring back the victim" nor "erase memories of this painful period".

"But it is my hope that the sentencing will provide some sort of closure for the family of the victim. It is also my hope that the accused dutifully continues with his medication whilst in prison," he said.

Source: CNA/ll(gs)

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