July 22, 2005
HUANG NA MURDER TRIAL
Took opts not to testify in his defence
Relying only on the testimony of his psychiatrist, he will claim diminished responsibility
By Chong Chee Kin
TOOK Leng How, the man accused of murdering eight-year-old Huang Na on Oct 10 last year, will not testify in his own defence.
His shock decision came after defence lawyers failed to persuade the judge that the prosecution had not made a case against him.
In calling for the defence, Justice Lai Kew Chai said he believed the prosecution had put forward sufficient evidence in the first nine days of the trial to suggest that Took had murdered Huang Na.
'I do not for one moment think there is no case to answer,' the judge said.
Took's move - similar to the one bus driver Oh Laye Koh adopted more than 10 years ago in his murder retrial - means he will rely solely on the testimony of his psychiatrist, Dr R. Nagulendran, to get him off the hook.
He will claim a defence of diminished responsibility - a partial defence that reduces the act of killing from murder to manslaughter, which means the killer cannot be hanged for the offence.
It requires the defence to establish that the killer's mental functions were impaired at the time, to the extent that he was unable to distinguish right from wrong.
Took's decision carries considerable risk. A defendant's silence can be taken as an inference of guilt and, in many cases, means virtually the only evidence the court can use to decide a case comes from the prosecution.
Dead man, dead man.
When an accused person refuses to testify in his own defence, he certainly looks bad, doesn't he? The prosecution has produced 76 witnesses to put together its case against Took. And now Took decides, "Oh well, I'm not just going to say anything. Not a thing at all." Would an innocent person do that? Of course not. An innocent person would want desperately to get on the witness stand and tell the judge his side of the story.
Now a guilty person is much more likely to avoid the witness stand. The guilty person knows that once he decides to testify, he will be subjected to the DPP's cross-examination. Under cross-examination, the guilty person will be picked apart by the DPP (like Davinder Singh picking TT Durai apart - although of course that is a different case of legal suit). And then he will look worse than ever before.
So it is the guilty person who is much likelier to choose not to testify at all. He opts for silence. But the law says that the judge is permitted to draw adverse inferences against the accused if he refuses to testify. In other words, the judge is entitled to reach the following conclusion: "You're not testifying because you're scared, and you're scared because you did something very wrong and you know you won't have good answers to the questions which the DPP wants to ask you."
The judge does not necessarily draw this kind of conclusion. But he is permitted to. Whether he does or not depends on the overall circumstances of the case. And at the moment, the circumstances aren't looking very pretty for Took.
In layman terms, Took's defence is going to be that he is stupid. For that, he's going to rely on some psychiatric report. Well, good luck. Anybody can kill anybody and then say, "Gee, I was too stupid to understand what was happening." Not many, however, are going to succeed with that kind of defence.
It would help if Took was an obvious retard. A grown idiot who can't get by in life without constant supervision. But Took isn't. After Huang Na died, he was smart enough to wrap the body; find an excellent hiding spot; transport the body without anyone noticing; dump the body; disappear from work; get his passport and quietly leave the country without telling anyone. That takes planning. That takes presence of mind. That takes brains.
Diminished responsibility? Too dumb to understand anything? Sing me another song, lah.
You're just making me look ridiculous. Literally!"