President Tony Tan has rejected the clemency appeal of Malaysian Kho Jabing to be spared the death sentence.
The 31-year old from Sarawak, along with an accomplice, Galing Kujat, were arrested in 2008 for the murder of 40-year old Cao Ruyin.
Mr Cao, a Chinese national, was bludgeoned to death by the two in Geylang during a robbery where he was robbed of his mobile phone and was beaten with a tree branch and died from his injuries six days later.
In 2010, both Kho and Kujat, who is also a Malaysian, were found guilty of the charges and were sentenced to death.
The two men appealed their sentences in 2013.
The Court of Appeal (CA) upheld Kho’s conviction and sentence; but it allowed Kujat’s appeal, and substituted his conviction for murder with an offence of robbery with hurt. The CA then sent his case back to the High Court for re-sentencing.
Kujat was then given 18 years and 6 months imprisonment, and 19 strokes of the cane.
In 2013, the government introduced changes to the mandatory death penalty laws where the death sentence would be applied only to the most serious of murder (and drug trafficking) cases.
Under the changes, a convicted person on death row could apply for alternative sentences, if he fulfilled certain and specific conditions.
Kho’s lawyer, Anand Nalachandran, then applied for his client to be re-sentenced under the new legal regime.
In 2013, the CA allowed Kho’s application and remitted his case to the High Court for re-sentencing.
The High Court subsequently reduced Kho’s death sentence to life imprisonment, with the maximum 24 strokes of the cane.
“There was no clear sequence of events concerning the attack,” Justice Tay Yong Kwang said then.
He added, referring to the critical issue of how the assault took place: “There was no clear evidence that the convicted person went after the deceased from behind without warning and started hitting him on the head with the piece of wood.”
The prosecution, however, appealed the High Court’s decision on the grounds that “this was an extremely vicious attack on the victim.”
The Court of Appeal (CA), this time made up of a rare five-men panel, eventually overturned the High Court’s decision with a 3-2 vote earlier this year.
Kho’s case is the first case of its kind to reach the Court of Appeal since the amendments to the mandatory death penalty were enacted.
One of the main questions which the CA considered was whether Mr Kho had “exhibited a blatant disregard for human life in the way he attacked the deceased.”
“In determining whether the actions of the offender would outrage the feelings of the community, we find that the death penalty would be the appropriate sentence when the offender has acted in a way which exhibits viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life,” the judges said in their written decision.
“Viewed in this light, it is the manner in which the offender acted which takes centre stage. For example, in the case of a violent act leading to death, the savagery of the attack would be indicative of the offender’s regard for human life. The number of stabs or blows, the area of the injury, the duration of the attack and the force used would all be pertinent factors to be considered.”
The judges added, “It is the offender’s (dis)regard for human life which will be critical.”
“This explains why an offence under s 300(a) of the PC, where the offender had the clear intention to cause death, still carries the mandatory death penalty.”
The judges considered that Kho, who was 24 at the time of the crime, had approached Cao from behind when the assault happened; “that after the deceased fell to the ground after the first blow and then turned around to face upwards, [Kho] struck him once more”; and that “the force he exerted in the two blows must have been so great as to cause fracturing of such severity and magnitude.”
“In light of the sheer savagery and brutality exhibited by the Respondent, we are completely satisfied that the Respondent exhibited a blatant disregard for human life in the way he attacked the deceased,” the CA judges said.
The CA then overturned Justice Tay’s decision and re-imposed the death sentence on Kho.
On 19 October, the family of Kho was informed that the president, after due consideration and on advice of the Cabinet, has rejected Kho’s appeal for clemency.
This means that Kho has exhausted all legal avenues for reprieve.
“He told us that when he dies we should not be sad or cry because this is his destiny, and that he is very grateful for everyone’s help,” Jumai Kho, the sister of the inmate, said after their first visit with her brother.
According to the Second Chances website, although he had been a Christian before, Kho had converted to Islam while in prison.
“My brother says he wants the Malaysian embassy to help fly his body back to Miri after he dies,” Jumai added.
In a letter of thanks to activists who have been campaigning for him, Kho thanked them for their effort.
“May God repay all of your kindness, amen,” he said. “Because you’ve helped with the cost and expenses of [bringing] my mother and sister [to Singapore]. May we meet again in heaven in the future.”
It is unknown when his execution will be carried out but hangings in Singapore are usually held on Friday mornings, at dawn.
The inmate is informed only about three days before he is due to be hanged.