Convicted killer gets last-minute stay of execution

Appeal by opposition politician-lawyer to be heard this morning, when he was to be hanged

Lawyer and opposition politician Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss succeeded late last night in staving off the execution of convicted murderer Jabing Kho, who had been scheduled to hang this morning.

Earlier in the day, she failed to get a stay before Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh after hours of arguments in chambers.

But she was given an 11pm deadline to file an appeal, which she met. That means that 31-year-old Kho, a Sarawakian, cannot be hanged until the appeal, scheduled for this morning, is heard.

It brought to a close a dramatic day, during which a five-judge Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed a separate bid by Kho to escape the gallows for the brutal killing of a construction worker in 2008. He had bludgeoned Chinese national Cao Ruyin on the head with a tree branch while robbing him, striking the victim several times even as he lay on the ground. Mr Cao, whose skull was shattered from multiple fractures, died in hospital six days later.

Found guilty of murder, Kho was first handed the mandatory death penalty in 2010. His appeal was dismissed in 2011.

In 2013, he was re-sentenced to life imprisonment and caning after the law was changed to give judges the discretion to opt for a life term in certain cases of murder.

The prosecution appealed, and three judges of a five-member bench decided to send Kho to the gallows. In their written judgment last January, the majority said Kho had shown a "blatant disregard for human life", in the light of the "sheer savagery and brutality" of the attack.

In April, a five-judge apex court dismissed one attempt to quash his death sentence.

But on Wednesday, Kho's sister Jumai instructed lawyer Gino Hardial Singh to make "new" arguments to the apex court. Mr Singh contended that the decision to send Kho to the gallows was tainted by apparent bias as Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang had sat both in Kho's 2011 appeal against conviction as well as the prosecution's 2015 appeal against the sentence.

Yesterday, the five-judge Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. It was highlighted that the "bias" argument had been included in his first attempt to quash the death sentence before being withdrawn. Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, who delivered the decision, said Kho's legal moves were an abuse of court process.

If allowed, this would lead to individuals "prolonging matters ad infinitum by drip-feeding their arguments one by one" through multiple applications.

Even if Kho's argument were completely new, the court would still have dismissed it, he added.

Justice Phang was deciding on completely different issues in 2011 and 2015 - the earlier one was on guilt, and the second on punishment. Justice Chao highlighted that trial judges all over the world routinely decide on the guilt of accused persons and then pass sentence on them. Ending on a sombre note, Justice Chao noted how Kho was arrested in 2008. "Eight years and an innumerable number of legal applications later, he still stands before this court."

But there was still a twist to come. Ms Chong-Aruldoss, also instructed by Kho's sister, separately filed an urgent application to stay the execution. It is understood that she intends to make arguments on points of law relating to the appeal court's 2015 judgment.

The application was dismissed but she was granted an appeal. A hearing has been set for 9am today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'Convicted killer gets last-minute stay of execution'. Print Edition | Subscribe