HK court orders retrial for Malaysian jailed for killing wife, daughter with gas-filled yoga ball
A Malaysian professor sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife and daughter in 2015 was, on Nov 21, given a chance to clear his name after a Hong Kong court ordered a retrial of his case.
Khaw Kim Sun, 59, who formerly taught at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and worked as a doctor at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong, was convicted of two charges of murder and imprisoned in 2018.
A trained anaesthesiologist, he was found guilty of killing his wife and second daughter by poisoning them with a yoga ball he had filled with carbon monoxide, after the lethal gas had leaked out of the ball placed in a Mini Cooper his estranged wife drove.
The two, Madam Wong Siew Wing, 47, and Lily Khaw, 16, were found unconscious in the car on May 22, 2015, and pronounced dead on the same day.
In a judgment released on Nov 21, five top appeal court judges ruled unanimously in favour of Khaw and his lawyers who raised questions concerning the trial judge’s directing of the jury.
The appeal court judges concluded that the trial judge, Judianna Barnes, could have “steered the jury towards an impermissible line of reasoning” that rejected the possibility of his daughter using the carbon monoxide to kill insects.
Yoga ball stopper
During the trial in 2018, prosecutors had accused Khaw of placing the ball in the Mini belonging to Madam Wong, knowing she would be driving the car. The prosecutors contended he had unintentionally killed his daughter, who was unexpectedly not at school, as well.
When police investigators found the partially deflated ball in the car’s boot in November 2015, the stopper was missing.
They then found a yoga ball stopper in a drawer in Khaw’s study in 2016, leading the prosecution to suggest to a trial jury in 2018 that it may be from the ball placed in the car.
After a 21-day trial, the jury in September 2018 found him guilty of two counts of murder, with High Court Judge Barnes sentencing him to life in prison for each count of murder.
There was no evidence to connect the stopper found in the drawer with the yoga ball in the Mini Cooper, wrote the appeal court judges in their judgment on Nov 21, with other yoga balls also found at Khaw’s family residence.
The judge’s misdirection had allowed the jury to ignore the possibility that the stopper was displaced or mistakenly taken away by police officers, which would lead to the jury eliminating Lily as the person who placed the yoga ball in the car, added the appeal court judges.
In their appeal, Khaw’s lawyers offered the alternative possibility that his daughter Lily had placed the yoga ball in the car to kill insects she was terrified of. In recorded interviews, Khaw had also previously suggested Lily may have committed suicide with the lethal gas, claiming he had told only her about the contents of the ball.
Khaw, who was then employed in CUHK’s Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, had told investigators he had brought the carbon monoxide-filled balls home to kill rats after previous experiments on rabbits, a line of reasoning the prosecution had contended was “bogus”.
The court also heard he was in a relationship with a former student, who is now reportedly caring for his three other children.
Khaw had an earlier appeal thrown out by an appeal court in 2022, but Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal in June 2023 approved his application to appeal over “grave injustice” involving the trial judge’s misdirection.
He was struck off the Hong Kong and British medical registers in 2020 for using his specialist knowledge to carry out the murders.