Second convicted murderer escapes gallows

Malaysian man is instead sentenced to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane
Published: 4:03 AM, August 15, 2013
Updated: 5:50 PM, August 15, 2013

SINGAPORE — A convicted murderer yesterday became the second death row inmate to escape the gallows following amendments to the Penal Code and Misuse of Drugs Act, with the judge saying he had considered the assailant’s “relatively young age” and his choice and use of weapon.

Changes to the law, which took effect this year, allowed judges to impose either the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain types of homicide and drug trafficking offences.

High Court Judge Tay Yong Kwang yesterday sentenced Malaysian Jabing Kho, who was convicted of murdering construction worker Cao Ruyin, to life imprisonment with 24 strokes of the cane. Justice Tay said he had taken into consideration the Sarawakian’s “relatively young” age — he was 24 when he committed the offence — and his choice and use of weapon, which was “opportunistic and improvisational”.

Kho, who is now 29, and his fellow countryman Galing Anak Kujat were convicted in July 2010 of murdering Cao, a Chinese national, in order to rob him in February 2008.

Kho had attacked Cao with a tree branch he picked up from the ground, while Galing assaulted another foreign worker, Mr Wu Jun, using a belt with its metal buckle exposed wrapped around his fist. Mr Wu escaped with minor injuries.

Both assailants appealed against their convictions. Kho lost his appeal in May 2011, while Galing had his conviction overturned and substituted with robbery with hurt. He was jailed 18 years and six months with 19 strokes of the cane.

In calling for the death sentence to be imposed on Kho, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Seraphina Fong noted that the case “would outrage the feelings of the community” and called on the court to take a strong stance against “violent, opportunistic and heinous crimes”.

The DPP argued that Kho’s culpability was high in specifically targeting vulnerable victims, arming himself with a weapon and using excessive force. Kho “had acted in a vicious and pernicious manner” in “raining heavy blows” on Cao’s head, inflicting 14 fractures to his skull, she noted.

The death penalty ought to be imposed on persons who use “gratuitous violence without regard to the risk of fatality to their victims”, she said.

Kho’s lawyers Anand Nalachandran and Josephus Tan argued that although he had intended to rob, he did not bring along any weapons and was not the mastermind of the robbery. He also had no record of crime or violence in Singapore and Malaysia.

Kho’s lawyers said that the discretionary death penalty “ought to be the exception rather than the rule” and imposed restrictively.

Subject to the factors in each case, they said, life imprisonment should be the “starting and default position” — a point Justice Tay disagreed with.