30 August 2005

Death And Other Stories

SINGAPORE : Took Leng How has been sentenced to death after being found guilty for the murder of eight-year old girl, Huang Na, in October last year.

The verdict on the 22-year-old vegetable packer was handed out by Judge Lai Kew Chai at the Supreme Court on Friday.
Reading out his verdict, the judge said: "Based on the evaluation of the evidence, in particular the conflicting medical evidence, the defence has failed to prove...that the accused was suffering from schizophrenia, or indeed mental disorder of any kind."

In his statement of nearly 30 pages, Justice Lai Kew Chai pointed out that the forensic evidence not only supported the prosecution's case but also that Took had admitted to sexually assaulting Huang Na, smothering her to death with his bare hands. He therefore found the accused guilty as charged and imposed the mandatory death penalty - by hanging.

So yet another high-profile capital case draws to an end. And the end is as Mr Wang had predicted more than a month ago. Unlike the case of Shanmugam Murugesu, however, no one seems to be calling for Took to be saved from the gallows.

It is quite possible that some Shanmugam sympathisers can nevertheless logically choose not to sympathise with Took. For example, some Shanmugam sympathisers may take the position that the death sentence is inappropriate for drug trafficking, but appropriate for murderers. Thus they can logically and honestly say that in their view, Shanmugam should not have been hanged, but that Took should.

However, other Shanmugam sympathisers supported Shanumgam on the basis that capital punishment is intrinsically objectionable, whatever the offence is (and this position would be fully consistent with that of, say, Amnesty International). Logically speaking, this category of Shanmugam sympathisers should oppose Took being sentenced to death.

These persons should now come forward and express their shock or distress at the court's decision. They should now be busy signing petitions asking the President to grant Took clemency. And when Took is finally hanged, they should light candles, keep public vigils, say prayers and weep tears of grief and anguish.

Should they not?

I could be wrong. But somehow I don't think that is going to happen. Murderers of 8-year-old children just don't get that kind of public sympathy.

Suppose you were one of those people who had followed Shanmugam's case closely. You had then concluded that capital punishment was simply, utterly wrong - that the death sentence should be completely abolished. How do you feel now about Took's death sentence? You might be feeling differently.

And if you do - well, what can we conclude from this?

Most likely, that you had let your emotions fool you during Shan's case. All those sad stories and pictures in the media, about his poor mother and his poor children kneeling in the streets etc. Yes, it was really tragic. And you let those tragic elements lead you into thinking in a certain way about the death sentence. A way which you now .... reject?

Don't forget that Took has a mother too. And a wife, and a two-year-old son. Why aren't you supporting him? Where do you really stand, on capital punishment?

"Everyone has a mother. Even me."


Anonymous said...

Is there a difference between capital punishment, and giving 20-yr old NSF the right to kill another person in the name of national defence?

..woah... far out...

Zen|th said...

Capital punishment is always a controversial issue. For me, taking a human life is never right. By killing someone who has murdered, what's difference? 2 wrongs don't make a right. Just sentencing him to life imprisonment will do.

Anonymous said...

I support death penalty but I oppose mandatory death sentence because I believe all people should have the chance to have their unique circumstances taken into account of the punishment of the punishment.

singaporean said...

Capital punishment is relevant if it deters the crime. The average felon is no atheist and is fearful of the Haw Par Villa treatment awaiting him. Life imprisonment may be of no deterrence at all to someone who would otherwise starve to death or be hacked to death by, say, loan sharks.

Depending on the CJ, the length of life imprisonment seem variable. If the definition of life imprisonment is twenty years, what deterrence is there between rape, and rape+murder?

In fact, between the potential Shanmugams and Tooks, who will more likely make a risk/reward calculation and seriously consider the consequence?

Dont get me wrong, I am not a strong supporter of the death penalty. I am especially concerned in cases of miscarriage of justice: there is no possibility of redress after execution, especially given Singapore's efficiency in court procedures.

Anonymous said...

No serious study of the death penalty has concluded that it prevents crime. That is a myth. Capital punishment has been abolished in most countries in the world, aside from Singapore, China and (gulp) the U.S.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Lexus, I think it's very hard to justify hanging criminals on the basis that we think that our prisons are not good enough at keeping them securely locked up.

Pacific202, yes, actually ...

Zenith, your reasoning is logically consistent. But many people who would otherwise agree with you would suddenly, and illogically, reverse gear in a case like Huang Na/Took's.

Anonymous, in Singapore, I think that this mechanism is achieved in homicide cases. Some killers get life imprisonment, not the death sentence. In Took's case, life imprisonment was what Took's lawyer was fighting to achieve.

Singaporean, there used to be some legal controversy over the meaning of "life imprisonment". The controversy has been decisively settled by CJ, and now "life imprisonment" now means "as long as you live", not "20 years" as it used to be in the past.

Friskodude, you're of course quite right. Deterrence generally relies on the ability of the potential criminal to think sensibly and rationally and make a clear-headed decision as a good, proper citizen of society would. Unfortunately, many kinds of would-be criminals are simply not in that kind of frame of mind. Classic example is the "crime of passion" type of murder, where a man finds herself sexually betrayed by the woman he loves, and in a fit of anger / hate etc, kills the woman and/or the third party.

Merv said...

I don't want to be a troll, but if you say capital punishment has not been conclusively proven to deter crime, can I ask, has it been proven that giving life imprisonment would?

Of course we must take in account the severity of the cirme. Just as we would not sentence a petty thief to life imprisonment, nor would we give 1 week's jail to a murderer.

Its all about the serverity of the crime.

One might argue that Shanmu (the drug pusher's) crime is victimless (no one was directly hurt). I wrote 'directly' because I would not want to go into a debate on drug prevention.

While Took killed another person.

If you say death sentence does not reduce crimes, i'll be a devil's advocate by saying neither does life-imprisonment. so why not just give Took 1 week's jail?


Anonymous said...

Life imprisonment will bring abt the second issue of funding. People will complain abt paying to feed these murderers.

My take is death for repeat, mass murderers or the like, and life for cases like Toke. Definitely not for drug trafficking though.

Merv said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Merv said...

I want to add: The fact that Shanmugam trafficked cannabis/or weed, which is legal to use in Holland.

And in US, you will never get hanged for using weed. Jailed/Fined? Yes.

It might be dumb for Shanmugam to traffick weed to Singapore. But he should not pay his life for such stupidity.

Compare this crime to Took's act of killing another person.

Then you understand why Shanmugam does not deserve to hang, while Took does.

You cannot treat Shanmugam's case the same as Took.

Its not about getting emotioned fooled in Shamugam's case.

The fact is, for Shamugam - The punishment did not fit the crime.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Life imprisonment may not deter crime any more than the death sentence -

however, life imprisonment does not raise the other issues that the death sentence does;

for example, the idea that all human life is sacred, and the state shouldn't be killing people no matter what;

and also the idea that the judicial system is not fallible and can err.

Life imprisonment is not as reversible as the death sentence; internationally, there are many cases of people being wrongly convicted, and then being released years later when new evidence is discovered later to prove their innocence. Death however is irreversible once inflicted.


I disagree with the funding issue because effectively what you're saying is, "We'd like to lock you up forever, but we can't afford it, so I guess we'll just kill you instead." I just cannot agree with this kind of argument.

Also, as I've said earlier, some supported Shan on the basis that drug trafficking is not such a serious offence as to deserve the death sentence. Others, however, supported Shan on the basis that capital punishment is inherently wrong. I am just wondering what happened to the latter group of supporters, in Took's case.