Man changes plea to guilty, now faces life imprisonment, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Man changes plea to guilty, now faces life imprisonment

His lawyers say defence needed to reduce charge to manslaughter was unsustainable

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - A Singaporean accused of smothering his wife to death with a pillow changed his plea to guilty on the fifth day of his trial for murder at Newcastle Crown Court, in a session that was over in less than half an hour.

After deliberation with his attorneys yesterday morning, Fong Soong Hert, 51, admitted to killing Madam Pek Ying Ling, his wife of 28 years.

The trial was delayed for an hour and a half as Fong met with his attorneys, with proceedings originally meant to get under way at 10.30am local time.

The attorneys then met briefly with the judge in the courtroom. After the jury members were led in, the judge opened the day's session by informing them of the change in plea, while Fong showed no emotion.

He looked over at his sons, who were sitting in the gallery, as he was led out of the courtroom.

The conviction draws a sentence of life imprisonment, but Fong will reappear in court on Friday for sentencing to determine the minimum term that he must spend in prison.

Judge Paul Sloan told the jury that Fong's decision to change his plea was made after the defence consulted further with the expert witnesses and reviewed the evidence. They concluded that the defence of "diminished responsibility" needed to reduce the charge to manslaughter was unsustainable and advised Fong accordingly, he said. "It is accepted that the defendant is guilty of murder and that is why this morning he has tendered that plea before you."

He went on to direct the jury to formally return a verdict of guilty. "You couldn't ask for more compelling or potent evidence of guilty than the defendant himself acknowledging his guilt... However, technically he's still in your charge." He then thanked the jury members for their participation throughout and up to an "unexpected conclusion" to the trial.

Fong smothered his 51-year-old wife's face with a pillow on Dec 6 last year at the County Aparthotel in Newcastle, Britain.

The couple had visited an infirmary the night before for Fong's injuries from a fall, and had discussed a potential change in holiday plans upon their return to the hotel. Then, at an undetermined hour, Fong knelt on his wife to restrain her, as suggested by the large bruises on her shoulders, said a pathologist report. He then held a pillow over her face for what must have been several minutes before she blacked out and then died of suffocation.

The day before he changed his plea, Fong, who said he was on several medications for his injuries, told the court he could not remember smothering his wife but accepted that he had done it.

As he has done throughout the trial, the defendant said he could not remember anything from the conversation with his wife, until finding her unresponsive on the bed the next morning. He said he froze at that point and it felt "like a nightmare".

However, prosecutor Peter Makepeace noted that Fong's phone had been accessed several times since 4.42am, and asked why Fong had made no attempt to save his wife.

"Your wife might have been saveable when you saw her lying on the bed. So what did you do to try and save her? Not a single thing, did you? What you did was sit and turn your phone on and off nine times," said Mr Makepeace.

The court heard that Fong called his son Alonzo the next morning to tell him that his mother was not responding and that he hoped she "could still be saved".

During a call to the emergency services, Alonzo said: "I think they got into an argument and then what he told me is he lost it and covered her mouth and just told me she's gone."

Fong's memories of the arrival of police and paramedics, his arrest, and questioning at the police station were also very sparse. But the jury heard that while in the holding cell after his arrest, Fong was recorded as saying: "I snapped. I just wanted her to keep quiet."

During the trial, Fong had described his 28-year marriage as "wonderful - we were so happy", adding that the couple had some "bickerings" but they never became physical.

He consistently expressed regret at his fatal actions, telling the court: "My heart is very, very painful, it's been ripped apart, my whole world is collapsing. It's blank."

Over five days, the prosecution and defence questioned Fong and his son Alonzo as well as the pathologist and police officers.

Fong's three sons were present during the change of plea. They chose not to make a statement to the media.