A hangman's noose

Lorry driver condemned to death for drug trafficking to get fresh trial before another judge

A 47-year-old lorry driver, who was sentenced to death for drug trafficking, will have a second chance to escape the gallows; after the Court of Appeal allowed his appeal and remitted his case for a re-trial before another High Court judge on last Friday (1 March).

This was because Murugan Subrawmanian, who had initially remained silent when called to put forward his defence, changed his mind just before judgment was delivered and wanted to testify.

But Judicial Commissioner Foo Chee Hock rejected his request, finding “no good reason to reopen the evidentiary phase of the trial”.

He also noted that Murugan had ample time and opportunity to consider whether he wished to testify, and that he (JC Foo) and Murugan’s defence lawyers had taken precautions to ascertain Murugan’s decision to remain silent.

As such, JC Foo viewed Murugan’s request to testify as a “tactical decision” calculated to abuse the process of the court.

However, the Court of Appeal – comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang – held that Murugan had been denied a fair trial and should have been allowed to testify.

This was one of the many grounds Mr Thangavelu, who represented Murugan before the apex court, put forward in his submissions.

Murugan was alleged to have handed five bundles containing 66.27g of diamorphine (heroin) over to one Hisham, while they were onboard a cargo trailer which he (Murugan) was driving, on 6 January 2015.

Hisham and Murugan were separately arrested afterwards by Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers, who spotted Hisham boarding the cargo trailer when they were conducting a drug bust operation in the vicinity.

Fifteen minutes into his arrest, Hisham complained of discomfort and shortness of breath, and despite being conveyed to the hospital, he was pronounced dead about an hour later.

During Murugan’s trial, his defence lawyers had argued that Murugan’s statements should be disregarded, as he was alleged to be suffering from mild intellectual disability and interrogative suggestibility.

JC Foo, however, held otherwise and also found that there were no inducement or oppression which rendered the statements inadmissible. He also drew an adverse inference against Murugan’s silence as suggesting his guilt.

Although Murugan was found to be merely a courier, he was not given a certificate of substantive assistance by the Public Prosecutor, and the court had found that he was not suffering from any mental condition which impaired his mental responsibility for the offence.

As such, Murugan was given the mandatory death sentence in March last year.

A pre-trial conference for the re-trial has been fixed on Friday (8 March).