Malaysian escapes gallows after Singapore law reform

SINGAPORE - A Malaysian convict has become the first person in Singapore to have a mandatory death sentence for murder commuted after the city-state eased rules on capital punishment, officials said Wednesday.

The Attorney-General's Chambers said Fabian Adiu Edwin, 23, a construction worker from the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, had his death sentence reduced to life imprisonment.

Local media reports said High Court Judge Chan Seng Onn considered Fabian's age at the time of the crime and low IQ in imposing the prison sentence, plus 24 strokes of the cane, on Tuesday.

Fabian's lawyer argued at Tuesday's hearing that his client was aged just 18 when he killed security guard Loh Eee Hui, during a robbery.

The Malaysian was found to have an IQ of 77-85, the Straits Times reported.

Fabian had hit Loh's three times with a piece of wood, tripped him up and stepped on his chest, the report added.

Fabian and an accomplice stole Loh's wallet and mobile phone, before the guard died in hospital from skull fractures.

Fabian was convicted of murder in 2011 and given a mandatory death penalty, a sentence upheld by the Court of Appeal.

But Singapore's parliament late last year passed legal reforms abolishing mandatory death sentences in certain drug trafficking and murder cases.

The changes, which took effect in January, give judges the discretion to lock up offenders for life under certain circumstances.

The reforms prompted case reviews of some 30 prisoners awaiting execution. Fabian's case was sent back to the High Court in May, the Straits Times said.

"It is confirmed that Fabian Adiu Edwin was the first to be sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder charge he faced," a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General's Chambers, the state prosecution arm, told AFP.

Human rights groups have called on Singapore to abolish capital punishment, carried out by hanging since British colonial rule.

But the government has rejected the calls, arguing death sentences for the most serious cases must remain as a crime deterrent.