Note: The author of this article is a founding member of anti-death penalty group We Believe in Second Chances, and has been directly involved in the Kho Jabing case as an activist.
No execution took place at dawn on Friday morning, as the Court of Appeal ordered a stay of execution for 31-year-old Kho Jabing less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to hang.
The court had ordered the stay so that his lawyer Chandra Mohan K Nair would have time to better prepare his case for the criminal motion that he had filed on Wednesday evening. Another application to the court had been made by anti-death penalty advocate and human rights lawyer M Ravi. Ravi filed his application as a concerned citizen as he has yet to receive a practising certificate after his suspension by the Law Society earlier this year.
Kho was involved in a 2008 robbery which resulted in a man’s death. During the robbery, Kho had hit Chinese construction worker Cao Ruyin over the head with a piece of wood, while his accomplice Galing anak Kujat used a belt. Cao suffered major head injuries and died six days later.
Both Kho and Galing were convicted under Section 300c of the Penal Code in 2010, and sentenced to death under the mandatory death penalty regime. They appealed their sentenced in 2011. The Court of Appeal substituted Galing’s murder charge for the lesser charge of robbery with hurt, and he was later re-sentenced to 18 years and six months in prison with 19 strokes of the cane. Kho’s appeal was dismissed.
The change in the mandatory death penalty laws in 2013 meant Kho was eligible for re-sentencing. High Court judge Tay Yong Kwang found that there was insufficient evidence to determine that Kho had approached Cao from behind to attack him – it has generally been acknowledge that the sequence of events remain unclear – and therefore sentenced him to life imprisonment with 24 strokes of the cane.
But the prosecution appealed the decision and in 2015 the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision, sending Kho back to the gallows in a 3-2 majority decision.
“The Respondent had approached the deceased from behind and struck him with two wicked blows to the head with the intention, at the very minimum, to incapacitate him. But he had stopped after that,” wrote Justice Lee Seiu Kin in his dissenting judgement. “It was not a case in which he had repeatedly hit the deceased after he was down, which would justify the conclusion that he had acted with viciousness and blatant disregard for human life.”
However, three judges ruled that Kho had shown a “blatant disregard for human life” in a way that would “outrage the feelings of the community”, and he was thus sentenced to death once more.
Kho’s appeal to President Tony Tan was denied in a letter dated 19 October. Signed by the president’s principal private secretary, the letter informed the family “that the President, after due consideration of the petition and on the advice of the Cabinet, has decided that the sentence of death should stand.”
Kho’s execution was later scheduled for Friday 6 November, and his family informed on the Monday of the same week.
The duration of the stay for Kho’s execution is yet to be determined.