Back in 1986, odd-job worker Arumugam Vellasamy fatally struck his colleague with a hammer over a drunken argument about unpaid salaries. The then 28-year old Malaysian, after realising what he had done, managed to get across the border to Johor that same night.
For more than three decades after that, Mr Arumugam had managed to evade justice, even crossing the causeway to Singapore and back a few times before the authorities finally managed to identify him using technological advances in fingerprinting.
But identifying the culprit was one thing. Nabbing him was another. Singapore police were unable to arrest Mr Arumugam due his name being misspelt on his Singapore work permit and consequently on the police gazette issued against him.
The now 61-year old grandfather of four was finally arrested in 2016 as crossed the Woodlands Checkpoint into Singapore. No details were given on how the police managed to apprehend him then.
Finally facing the music in Singapore Court, Mr Arumugam pled guilty to one charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and was sentenced to eight and a half years in jail.
Under the 1970 Revised Edition of the Penal Code, culpable homicide not amounting to murder carried a life sentence, or a 10 year jail term and fine or caning. But as he is over 50 years old, he cannot be caned.
In Court, Mr Arumugam’s lawyer Siraj Shaik Aziz argued that his client did see the misspelling of his name as an issue. To the Tamil-educated man, the “phonetic differences did not bother him as much,” said the lawyer.
It was also asserted that the victim was still alive when Mr Arumugan left the scene in 1986.
The lawyer who argued for an eight-year sentence for his client said, “It was not in his contemplation that he was in for culpable homicide until he was arrested.”
Deputy Public Prosecutors Kelly Ho and Li Yihong sought at least nine years’ imprisonment instead. The pointed out that while the victim was aggressive towards the offender, Mr Aruman’s response was “brutal and unrelenting” and did not suggest self-defence.
Justice Chan Seng Onn who delivered the sentence said to the offender, “I hope that you will reflect on what you have done, and after you serve your prison sentence you can go back to your family.”
What really happened?
According to the retelling of the incident in Court, 43-year old victim, Muthuah Kutha Lingam, had hired Mr Arumugam to do work for him on several occasions for an agreed sum of S$45 a day. However, the victim only paid him at S$10.
But the day of the incident, Mr Muthiah had owed Mr Arumugan a sum of S$1,000.
On August 28 1986, the two men had retreated to the hut where Muthiah lived at Lorong Kabong at around 1.30pm. They were joined by another worker, Mani. The three men proceeded to drink about four bottles of beer.
Eventually, Mani and Arumugam brought up the issue of unpaid salaries which incensed Muthiah who questioned them on their lack of trust in him. He apparently explained that he himself was still waiting to be paid by his superior.
An argument broke out which then left to Muthiah slapping Arumugam once. At this point, Mani left the hut while Muthiah spat vulgarities at Arumugam. The argument devolved into fisticuffs with both men landing on the ground.
Arumugam, who noticed a hammer on the ground, proceeded to them strike Muthiah with the tool three time in the head and twice in the chest. Arumugam then quickly left the hut and legged it to the Woodlands checkpoint via taxi, crossing over to Malaysia.
At about 7.30pm, another worker found Muthiah motionless on the ground, covered in blood. The older man was pronounced dead at the scene about an hour later.