Taiwan court sentences subway killer to death

TAIPEI (AFP) - A former college student was sentenced to death in Taiwan Friday for killing four people and wounding more than 20 others in a subway stabbing spree that shocked the island last year.

Cheng Chieh, 22, will face a firing squad after he was convicted on four counts of murder and 22 counts of attempted murder for the May 21 attack in the capital Taipei, the first fatal attack on the city's subway system since it began operating in 1996.

"The judges sentenced Cheng to death as his means were brutal and his crimes were severe while he had shown no remorse," Lien Yu-chun, a spokeswoman for the New Taipei district court, told AFP.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Cheng, saying psychological evaluations showed that he was not suffering from any mental disorder when he committed the crime.

Cheng, who had pleaded guilty to the charges, was expelled by his university after the attack and was described by prosecutors as "anti-society, narcissistic, immature and pessimistic".

His "ruthless and inhuman" means caused irreparable harm to the victims and their families, prosecutors said.

Cheng's parents initially asked for him to be sentenced to death to help ease the pain inflicted on the victims and their relatives, calling their son's actions "unforgivable".

However, his parents recently wrote to the judges in his case saying that they were willing to accompany him to receive counselling in the future "if there is still a chance for him", the district court said.

Cheng pleaded guilty in his first court appearance last August, nearly three months after he used a long knife to stab travellers on a subway train, sending hundreds of people screaming and fleeing for help.

When the train pulled in to the next station, Cheng fled and was chased by police before being kicked to the ground by a passenger and overwhelmed by a group of security officials and commuters.

The incident shocked Taiwan, which is proud of its low levels of violent crime, and resulted in several minor injuries as edgy commuters fled trains over false alarms in the following week.

There are currently 48 prisoners on death row in Taiwan, all of whom will face a firing squad - the means by which the death penalty is implemented on the island.

Cheng, who has been in custody since his arrest, can appeal the court's ruling.