SINGAPORE - A 23-year-old Malaysian man on Tuesday became the first convicted murderer in Singapore to be sentenced to life imprisonment instead of a mandatory death penalty.
This follows changes made to the law last year giving judges the discretion to impose either the capital punishment or life imprisonment for certain categories of murder.
The case of Fabian Adiu Edwin, a construction worker from Sabah who killed a security guard during a 2008 robbery, was the first time a sentencing judge has had a choice in deciding the sentence for murder.
In imposing life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane on Tuesday, Justice Chan Seng Onn considered Fabian's young age and sub-normal IQ.
Fabian was convicted of murder by the High Court in September 2011 and given the then mandatory death penalty. This was upheld by the Court of Appeal in August last year.
However, Fabian was among some 30 condemned prisoners given a lifeline when hangings were put on hold pending a review of the mandatory death penalty which started in July 2011.
In May this year, his case was sent back to the High Court judge to decide the appropriate sentence to be handed down under the amended law.
There are four clauses to cover different categories of murder. Before the changes, which came into effect in January this year, the death penalty was mandatory for all categories of murder.
Now it is mandatory only for Section 300(a), which involves acts carried out with the intention of causing death. It is discretionary for other clauses.
Fabian was convicted under Section 300(c), for having acted with the intention of causing bodily injury which would ordinarily be sufficient to cause death.
On Aug 23, 2008, Fabian and an accomplice attacked and robbed 35-year-old Loh Ee Hui at a Sims Avenue bus stop. Fabian struck Mr Loh's head forcefully three times with a piece of wood, pushed and tripped him, and stepped on his chest.
They took the victim's mobile phone and wallet containing $6 and an ez-link card. Mr Loh died in hospital that evening from skull fractures.
Fabian's accomplice, Ellarry Puling, a 27-year-old cleaner also from Sabah, has been sentenced to 19 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane for a lesser charge of robbery with hurt.
On Tuesday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Seraphina Fong sought the death penalty, arguing this was a case that "outrages the feelings of the community".
She argued that Fabian was vicious in targeting Mr Loh's head and striking the defenceless victim from behind with great force.
The DPP pointed to the brazenness of carrying out an attack in a public place and that the brutal assault was prompted only by greed over a mobile phone.
But Fabian's lawyer Anand Nalachandran argued that when there is a choice, "life is the preferred option, death is the last resort".
Fabian was only 18 years old at the time and was found to have an IQ in the low-average range of 77 to 85, he noted.
Separately, hearing dates have been fixed next month for the resentencing of two other convicted murderers. Bijukumar Remadevi Nair Gopinathan killed a Filipino prostitute in 2010 and Malaysian Jabing Kho bashed a Chinese national to death in 2008 while robbing him.