Convicted of rape, he was at wits' end. He wanted to appeal against the judgment but three lawyers had turned him down.
Then Mr Ong Mingwee went to Mr Subhas Anandan, widely regarded as Singapore's top criminal lawyer.
Their first meeting gave him hope. Mr Subhas later agreed to take his case and got the judgment overturned on appeal.
Mr Ong walked out of court a free man, forever indebted to Mr Subhas.
When he found out yesterday that Mr Subhas had died of heart failure at the age of 67, from a customer at his family's minimart in Toa Payoh North, he was shocked and deeply saddened.
He told The New Paper: "My heart is crying."
In a statement, Mr Subhas' family asked to be allowed to grieve their loss in private. His funeral, handled by Hindu Casket, will be held this afternoon at Mandai Crematorium.
Recalling his ordeal after being convicted of rape in April 2011, Mr Ong said he wanted to file an appeal because he was innocent. But his lawyer during the nine-day trial advised him to "bite the bullet" and accept his sentence of seven years' jail and eight strokes of the cane.
Two other lawyers, with whom he was friends, turned him down for fear of damaging their friendship if they were to lose. There was little chance the conviction would be overturned, they told him.
Mr Ong's mother suggested they approach Mr Subhas.
"He was my only hope. It was the way he carried himself and how he looked at the evidence that I felt hopeful at our first meeting," Mr Ong, 32, said.
Speaking at the minimart which he helps to run, he added: "To me, at that time, it meant a lot (that he was willing to take up my case)."
When Mr Subhas looked at the trial evidence, they had a frank talk.
In 2009, Mr Ong was convicted of rape after a one-night stand with a woman he had met in Zouk. He took her home and they they had sex. She later accused him of raping her while he claimed that it had been consensual.
Mr Ong said: "Subhas told me it looked like there 'should be nothing' and that he could not understand how the situation had turned out this way."
At their initial meetings, Mr Ong said, Mr Subhas was an intimidating presence. But he gradually warmed up, and Mr Ong described their relationship like that of a "caring uncle and nephew".
While preparing for the appeal, never once did the man known as The Basher tell Mr Ong whether or not if the appeal would succeed.
"I suppose he kept me hanging so that I wouldn't think much about it. Somehow, he made me feel very relaxed."
They met every month, where Mr Ong would get updates about what Mr Subhas and his team were doing, and how his appeal was shaping up.
Mr Subhas also visited Mr Ong's flat twice to better understand the spot where the incident had happened.
Mr Ong said: "No matter how serious he could be in court, there was a fun-loving side to him."
Appearing before the judge during the appeal in the High Court, Mr Subhas was "calm, firm and very sharp".
"There was no need for him to be fierce or anything. He was very calm and logical, and he knew what were the points that would stand out," said Mr Ong, who repeatedly said that Mr Subwas stern on the outside but had a very soft heart.
"Despite knowing that I would have problems paying my legal fees, he still took on my case, gave it his 100 per cent and told me I could take my time to come up with the money."
It was previously reported that Mr Ong spent over $70,000 in legal fees when he hired Mr Subhas.
On Nov 30, 2012, Mr Ong was acquitted of rape.
He said: "His death is a great loss to the innocent, those who would need his help to prove their innocence."
The pair kept in touch after Mr Ong's acquittal, and he would occasionally visit Mr Subhas at his office in Battery Road.
Looking wistful for a moment, he said: "You know, he already wasn't well when he took up my case. Yet he still wanted to help me. He was slightly pale, and he wasn't the same as you see in pictures."
Asked about his favourite memory of Mr Subhas, Mr Ong said: "It was just the way he carried himself. He had a lot of confidence and was very reassuring.
"As we were walking out of the High Court after my acquittal, he told me: Be a good boy now."
This article was first published on Jan 08, 2015.
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