Apex court reserves decision on call for death instead of life term

Prosecutors have challenged the High Court's decision to re-sentence a convicted murderer on death row to life in jail, in the first application of its kind.

Arguing that Sarawakian Jabing Kho had beaten a man to death using a piece of wood in a "most brutal and vicious fashion" in 2008, the prosecution urged a five-judge Court of Appeal to overturn the lower court's imposition of a life term and the maximum 24 strokes of the cane on Thursday.

The exact sequence of events leading to the attack on Feb 17, 2008, has been disputed. But Kho, 29, a rag and bone man, is said to have struck Chinese construction worker Cao Ruyin, 40, so hard his accomplice saw the man's head crack open.

Mr Cao, who was robbed of his mobile phone, died from serious brain injuries six days later, while a friend with him at the time escaped with minor injuries.

Kho and his accomplice were convicted in 2010 of murder and sentenced to hang.

The Court of Appeal set aside his accomplice's conviction the following year and reduced it to one of robbery with hurt, but rejected Kho's appeal.

But after an application by his lawyers, Kho became the second murderer on death row to be re-sentenced to life last August, after revised laws that make the death sentence mandatory only for those who intended to cause death.

Kho was found to have intentionally inflicted Mr Cao's injuries, which were sufficient to cause death.

Last Thursday, Deputy Public Prosecutors Hay Hung Chun, Seraphina Fong and Teo Lu Jia said that Kho's act was vicious and warranted the death sentence.

They argued the re-sentencing judge had taken the Court of Appeal's decision on Kho's appeal out of context when considering that Kho had picked up the piece of wood in an "opportunistic" manner to rob Mr Cao.

DPP Hay pointed out that Kho, then 24, did not relent after the first blow to his victim's head knocked the man to the ground but had "clearly and repeatedly" continued to strike him there.

"While the respondent may have chanced upon the weapon, he had used it to rain heavy blows only on the deceased's head," he added.

Defence lawyers Anand Nalachandran, Josephus Tan and Keith Lim argued that an undisputed account of what took place that day had not been established, and this meant a death sentence would be "unsafe and unjust".

Stressing that Kho had planned only the robbery and not the fatal attack, Mr Nalachandran said the present case did not "cross the threshold" to merit the gallows and that the life term should stand.

"Life is the first option and death is the last resort," he said.

Kho and his accomplice, whose job was to load oil onto ships, were here on work permits then.

Last Thursday's five-judge panel comprised Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang and Justices Woo Bih Li, Lee Seiu Kin and Chan Seng Onn.

The court reserved its decision to a later date, citing the novelty of the case and the need to exercise its discretion in a principled way.


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