Murderer spared gallows as factors weighed in his favour: Judge

This article is more than 12 months old

High Court Judge explains in written judgment why he sentenced man in fatal stabbing to life imprisonment

In 2016, a rag-and-bone man knifed a coffee shop helper to death while they were fighting with each other.

In February this year, High Court Judge Aedit Abdullah found Toh Sia Guan, now 68, guilty of murder under section 300(c) of the Penal Code. The punishment prescribed was either death or life imprisonment.

Justice Aedit found several factors that "weighed against sentencing Toh to the gallows", he wrote in judgment grounds on Monday to explain his decision.

He had sentenced Toh in March to life imprisonment for fatally stabbing 52-year-old Goh Eng Thiam on July 9, 2016.

Toh had stopped outside a coffee shop in Lorong 23 Geylang where Mr Goh was having breakfast.

When he asked Mr Goh if he was selling Chinese medicine, the victim swore at him and a fight ensued. Toh then left to buy a knife.

He came back, they fought again and Mr Goh was stabbed multiple times in his upper body, including his right upper arm which proved fatal. He also had injuries on his face and fingers.

Toh fled but was nabbed 12 days later.

"The cumulative effect of the separate pieces of evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the fatal injury was caused by the accused, and that he did so intentionally," said Justice Aedit, in finding Toh guilty after his trial last August.

The judge also said Toh's testimony was outweighed by the objective evidence, like the manner of the stab wounds and his conduct.

Toh's lawyers Wong Seow Pin and Dew Wong Li-Yen urged the judge to spare him the gallows, saying he did not manifest a blatant disregard for human life, nor was he so vicious as to outrage the feelings of the community. The "gruesomeness of the scene should not affect the outcome", they argued, noting Toh has low IQ.

They further pointed out that the prosecution, led by DPP Eugene Lee, was not seeking the death penalty.

Justice Aedit accepted that Toh did not know the injury was fatal, either during or after the attack, and this showed no blatant disregard for human life.

He also noted, unlike the 2015 case of Kho Jabing who was sentenced to death, it was not proven that Toh had intended for the victim to suffer as much as possible, or that he inflicted unnecessary blows even after Mr Goh had stopped reacting.

Justice Aedit made clear the framework for the exercise of sentencing discretion under the Penal Code's Section 302(2) had been set out by a line of Court of Appeal cases.

"In essence, the death penalty is warranted where the actions of the offender outrage the feelings of the community, such as by exhibiting viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life," he said.

"It is the manner in which the offender acted which takes centre stage," he added. "The death penalty was not called for in the circumstances here."