A hangman’s noose

Nearly two years after being handed the death sentence for killing a pimp five years ago, 55-year-old brothel operator Chan Lie Sian is now back in the Court of Appeal on Wednesday (3 April), fighting for his life to be spared.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, together with Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, reserved judgment on the appropriate sentence after hearing two and a half hours of arguments from Chan’s lawyer Mr Wendell Wong and Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Ms April Phang.

Chan was charged for the murder of 35-year-old William Tiah Hung Wai, whom he accused of having stolen money from him.

At about 11am on 14 January 2014, Chan summoned Tiah to the lodging house at Lorong 18 Geylang, where the former repeatedly struck the latter on the head with a metal dumbbell rod till unconscious, during a period of not more than 15 minutes.

Chua Thiam Hock, a cleaner employed by Chan, was then similarly summoned to the lodging house and beaten up by him. He also witnessed Chan beating Tiah further on his hands, arms and legs. Both Chua and Tiah were then confined for around 3 hours.

After another few hours, Chan splashed a pail of water over Tiah, purportedly trying to wake him up. Tiah was then sent to the hospital, following another round of disagreements between Chan and a few others as to whether medical aid should be given to Tiah.

Tiah eventually passed away one week later without regaining consciousness, a day short of his 36th birthday.

In May 2017, having rejected the defences of non-causation, intoxication and sudden fight, Judicial Commissioner Hoo Sheau Peng found Chan guilty of murder under section 300(a) of the Penal Code, i.e. under the limb with the intention to cause death, and accordingly passed the mandatory death sentence on him.

In July last year, both the Prosecution and Defence were allowed to introduce new evidence for the appeal, namely, autopsy reports from their respective experts. The result of this is that both experts agreed that, of the multiple blows Chan inflicted on Tiah’s head with the metal dumbbell rod, only one blow was sufficient to cause death.

As the arguments go on, the focus of the appeal is no longer on whether Chan had the intention to kill Tiah, but more on whether the death sentence or life imprisonment is appropriate as Chan’s punishment for murder.

This was because the judges, following a short break in between arguments, formed the provisional view that Chan could not be said to have the specific intention to kill Tiah, especially given that he had beaten Chua up after Tiah; and that the appropriate murder charge might have been section 300(c) instead, where the death sentence was not mandatory.

Mr Wong, in pleading for life imprisonment to be imposed, submitted that Chan did not prevent medical aid to be rendered to Tiah eventually despite his initial objections, and this showed that he did not completely disregard Tiah’s life.

Justice Phang found it difficult with the fact that Chan did not call for the ambulance at the earliest opportunity. He was prepared to treat this not as an aggravating factor but at most, a neutral factor in Chan’s case, given his stage of rage and anger at the material time.

“Even if someone fell ill or fainted during my lecture many years ago, the first thing I would do is to call an ambulance,” he remarked.

CJ Menon, on the other hand, was troubled by DPP Phang’s suggestion that by leaving Tiah unattended without medical attention and preventing others from rendering medical assistance to him, Chan had acted in blatant disregard for Tiah’s life.

In this regard, there was no evidence than Chan knew Tiah was dying or would die throughout the period he was left unattended. The fact that he splashed water on Tiah further reinforced his belief as to Tiah’s condition, even though DPP Phang disagreed with Mr Wong’s contention that the water was meant for Tiah’s revival.

CJ Menon also noted that in enquiring whether a murderer had acted in blatant disregard of human life, the focus should be on the manner in which he acted while committing the offence of murder.

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