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Man spared the gallows despite killing cabbie

SINGAPORE — A foreign worker escaped the hangman’s noose yesterday, becoming the fifth convicted murderer on death row to be given a life sentence instead of the death penalty.

Singapore

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SINGAPORE — A foreign worker escaped the hangman’s noose yesterday, becoming the fifth convicted murderer on death row to be given a life sentence instead of the death penalty.

Chinese national Wang Wenfeng, 33, was also given the maximum 24 strokes of the cane for the murder of cabbie Yuen Swee Hong, 58, in April 2009.

While Wang had failed in his appeal to the Court of Appeal in July last year, changes to the law, which took effect this year, gave judges the discretion to impose either the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain categories of murder. The case was then sent back to High Court Judge Lee Seiu Kin to determine if Wang should be jailed for life or hanged.

Desperate for money, Wang had hatched a plan to rob cabbies. He boarded Yuen’s taxi, which took him to Jalan Selimang near Sembawang Park, where Wang used a knife to threaten Yuen and demanded money. A struggle ensued, and the cabbie was stabbed in the chest. Wang then carried the body into a forested area in the park.

Defence lawyer Wendell Wong, who sought life imprisonment and not more than 10 strokes of the cane for his client, yesterday argued that, if Wang had wanted to kill Yuen, he would not have to wait for the struggle to erupt. “He had every opportunity and the upper hand to stab Yuen the moment he stepped into the rear passenger side of the taxi. However, the accused did not do so,” Mr Wong said.

Chief Prosecutor Bala Reddy countered that Wang showed a “high degree of premeditation and planning”. He had set his alarm for 4am before he went to sleep. “This shows his intent to commit the crime in the wee hours of the morning when the risk of detection would be lower as there would be fewer people out and about,” he said.

Chief Prosecutor Bala also argued that, to curb offences committed against public transport workers, particularly taxi drivers, the courts must take a strong stance against perpetrators of violent, opportunistic and heinous crimes. In the present case, the death penalty “is the strongest signal a court can send to denounce the deplorable conduct” of Wang, he added.

Mr Wong, however, said there has not been a spike in taxi drivers killed in recent years.

Justice Lee agreed with the defence that there was no “upward trend” in recent years of taxi drivers being murdered, and the wounds were inflicted during the struggle.

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