KUALA LUMPUR - A chicken rice seller accused of killing his girlfriend by setting her on fire was acquitted on a charge of causing her death. It was a verdict that left even the accused Cheh Chun Nam, a former bouncer at a club in Jalan Pudu here, in shock.
His sister, seated in the public gallery, openly broke down and rushed to Cheh, 37, who was handcuffed, and touched his shoulder.
She also repeatedly thanked his lead counsel Datuk Rajpal Singh, with tears in her eyes.
The sister also screamed at photographers to stay away and shielded Cheh's face with her handbag.
Shortly after, Rajpal spoke to both siblings and Cheh smiled and allowed himself to be photographed but would not talk about the acquittal.
Yesterday, High Court judge Justice Kamardin Hashim ruled that the totality of evidence did not lead to the possibility of Cheh causing his girlfriend's death.
"I agree that there is a possibility that the accused entered the place to put out the fire and splash water on her. I cannot reject (the possibility) that the deceased could also have burned herself.
"It has to be strong and lead to one inference to the offence of the accused. The trial judge has to determine if the defence could raise reasonable doubt over the manslaughter charge under Section 304A of the Penal Code," said Justice Kamardin.
He added that he was satisfied that it was not safe to convict Cheh for manslaughter and freed him.
Cheh had claimed trial to causing the death of his girlfriend Chan Yee Mun, 23, by splashing toluene on her body and setting her on fire at his house in Taman Segar in Cheras between 2am and 3.30am on June 22, 2012.
In June last year, Justice Kamardin amended Cheh's original charge from murder to manslaughter after ruling that there was insufficient evidence to show that the accused had intention to kill his girlfriend.
The judge heard evidence from 22 prosecution witnesses during the trial.
Cheh, who was then separated from his wife and has three daughters, gave his sworn evidence after the judge reduced his charge.
According to Cheh's evidence, he had stayed with his girlfriend for over a year before the incident.
Rajpal told the court yesterday that the couple loved each other and had fought over minor matters as Chan, a GRO in a club, was hot-tempered.
He said Cheh had gone out for dinner with Chan and her sibling on June 21, 2012. Upon returning home, Cheh heard Chan in a telephone conversation with a male and had asked about the caller, leading to a fight.
Cheh later went out to a restaurant to meet a friend. When he returned home at midnight, Cheh claimed to have told Chan that if she did not change her behaviour, he would leave her.
According to Cheh, Chan threatened to kill herself. Cheh claimed to be using the toilet when he heard Chan screaming. He rushed out and saw her on fire. He tried to put out the fire.
According to the DPP Mohd Nordin Ismail, Chan suffered 90% to 94% burn injuries on her body.