Brothel operator Chan Lie Sian, 55, was given the mandatory death sentence for murder two years ago, as the High Court found that he had the intention to kill when attacking his subordinate, 35-year-old William Tiah Hung Wai.
On Tuesday (30th July) morning, the Court of Appeal ruled that Chan had no intention to kill Tiah, and convicted him on a lesser charge of murder that does not carry the mandatory death penalty.
In the same vein, the apex court – comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash – unanimously agreed to sentence Chan to life imprisonment instead of the death penalty.
On 14 January 2014, Chan discovered that some of his money was missing. He called Tiah and asked to meet at his (Chan’s) lodging house. When Tiah arrived, he denied taking Chan’s money and a fight broke out.
During the fight, Chan took hold of a metal dumbbell rod and used it to hit Tiah’s head and body several times, lasting 15 minutes. Tiah was then left bleeding on the bed in one of the bedrooms.
Over the next few hours, Chan informed several of his people that he had beaten up Tiah for stealing his money. In the presence of his cleaner, Chua Thiam Hock, Chan inflicted more blows on Tiah’s body, but not his head. Tiah was then still alive but largely unresponsive, and groaned faintly when beaten.
At one point, Chan splashed a pail of water towards Tiah and accused him of pretending to be dead. He also objected to an ambulance being called. When he learnt that another of his associates had called for a private ambulance, he instructed two other to carry Tiah to the front porch.
Tiah was found to be suffering from skull fractures upon arrival at the hospital and died seven days later, a day short of his 36th birthday.
In the meantime, Chan surrendered himself to the police and was initially charged for voluntarily causing grievous hurt with a dangerous weapon. Upon Tiah’s death, the charge was amended to one of murder.
The Court of Appeal heard Chan’s appeal in April this year and judgment was reserved then.
Delivering the judgment of the court, CJ Menon explained that Chan did not have the specific intention to kill Tiah, as he had the opportunity to do so when Tiah was still alive but bleeding on the bed, and there were no witnesses around.
The court also found that, if Chan had indeed intended to kill Tiah, it would had been clearly against his interests by admitting to several of his people about his actions. It would also had made “no sense” for Chan to attempt to revive Tiah with a pail of water and to accuse him of playing dead if there was indeed a specific intention to kill.
However, the apex court rejected Chan’s partial defence of sudden fight, which would have otherwise reduced his murder charge to one of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, as Chan was armed with a metal dumbbell rod and had a physical advantage over Tiah by virtue of his physique, thus giving Chan an undue advantage over Tiah.
As there was no dispute that the blows inflicted on Tiah were not accidental, and that Chan’s acts had caused Tiah’s death, the court substituted the murder charge from section 300(a) of the Penal Code, which carries the mandatory death penalty, to section 300(c) of the Penal Code, which carries either the death penalty or life imprisonment. In the case of Chan, he could not be caned as he was over 50 years old.
Turning to the appropriate sentence, the court was not satisfied that the manner which Chan acted had shown a blatant disregard for human life. They found that Chan was not aware, during the attack or its immediate aftermath, that the blows he inflicted were fatal, as can be inferred from his statements and his decision to surrender himself to the police.
The court also rejected the Prosecution’s submission that Chan had wanted Tiah to suffer as much as possible; if Chan had harboured such an intention, the attack would not have lasted for just 15 minutes, and the blows to Tiah’s head would not have simply been of mild to moderate force.
Further, there was also insufficient evidence to determine the precise moment when Chan had inflicted the incapicitating blow that caused Tiah’s skull fracture, which may or may not point to the conclusion that he had acted in blatant disregard for human life.
Chan’s imprisonment term was backdated to 18 January 2014, the date he was first remanded after being charged for voluntarily causing grievous hurt with a dangerous weapon.