'Voices' in head led to setting of fatal fire

SINGAPORE - Hearing the voices of "evil spirits" coming from the bed in the master bedroom on Aug 5, 2009, Ho Wei Yi decided to exorcise them - by placing two sheets of paper on the mattress and setting them alight.

The resulting flames in the schizophrenic man's family home at McNair Road in Boon Keng climbed to more than a metre in height.

The fire killed his 58-year-old father, Mr Michael Ho Shiong Chun, who was found in the master bedroom toilet. He suffered various injuries, including burns, and died of smoke inhalation.

Yesterday Ho, 33, pleaded guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Four people present at the hearing, believed to be the unemployed man's relatives, declined to speak to reporters.

Calling for between eight and 10 years' imprisonment, Deputy Public Prosecutors Tan Wen Hsien and Puspha S. cited a medical report noting that Ho, who had known his father was in the room, had thought about returning to extinguish the fire.

But he decided against it because he knew the pastor at Chuan Hoe Seventh Day Adventist Church had called the police for help, and did not want to be arrested for arson.

"Although he started the fire as a result of his auditory hallucinations, his decision not to go back to extinguish the fire or rescue his father is a rational and reality- based one," DPP Tan said.

Defence lawyers Josephus Tan and Keith Lim asked for a jail term of four to six years, calling the case a "family tragedy of the highest order".

Citing a mitigation letter Ho had written, they said their client had a low risk of reoffending and had shown "genuine remorse" for his actions.

Ho, who suffers from chronic paranoid schizophrenia dating back to 2003, resented his parents for making him undergo treatment for the condition and turned violent towards his family members from 2008, court documents stated.

He stopped taking his medication close to three years before the incident.

After setting the fire that night, the voices in his head became louder and scarier, the court heard.

This caused Ho, then 29, to panic and flee the house, padlocking the gate as he went.

The prescribed penalty for culpable homicide not amounting to murder - when the act is carried out with the intention to cause death or injuries likely to result - is life imprisonment or up to 20 years' jail, and caning or a fine.

pohian@sph.com.sg


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