A 71-year-old taxi driver, who killed his lawyer's wife after hitting her on the head with a bicycle chain and setting fire to the law office she was in, was sent to jail yesterday with the maximum sentence of 10 years.
Judicial Commissioner Hoo Sheau Peng agreed with the prosecution that this was one of the most serious instances of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. She called Govindasamy Nallaiah's attack on Madam Low Foong Meng, 55, "deplorable" for causing the victim to suffer multiple injuries.
The jail term was backdated to August 2011 when Govindasamy was in custody. If given the usual one-third remission for good behaviour, he could be released in two years.
In February, Govindasamy was convicted of the lesser charge of culpable homicide and cleared of murder. He originally faced life imprisonment or death under a rarely invoked murder charge. Under the provision, a killing amounts to murder if the person commits an act knowing it is so imminently dangerous that it would in all probability cause death.
But the court found that the prosecution had not proven beyond reasonable doubt that his act "would in all probability cause death". He was, however, guilty of culpable homicide as his act was "likely" to cause death.
Madam Low's husband, Mr Rengarajoo Rengasamy Balasamy, was not in court for the sentencing. When The Straits Times contacted him later, he said: "That's what the court thought was correct... There's nothing I can say about it. What status do I have?"
He said the case was a matter between the prosecution and the accused, adding: "What I've lost, I've lost. I'm not going to get it back."
Asked if he felt angry towards Govindasamy, he replied: "Of course. I'm not Mahatma Gandhi or Jesus Christ, I'm an ordinary human being with all the feelings. You put yourself in my place and you will know how it feels like."
The court heard during the trial last year that Govindasamy owed Mr Rengarajoo, a childhood friend, $38,000 in legal fees incurred when the lawyer represented him in a 2002 corruption trial. In July 2011, Mr Rengarajoo took legal action against Govindasamy's son to recover the debt. Govindasamy was given a deadline to pay by Aug 10, 2011, or his son and daughter- his guarantors - would be taken to court.
That morning, Govindasamy went to Mr Rengarajoo's office in the Afro Asia Building and tried to negotiate with Madam Low. When that failed, he took out a bicycle chain and padlock and hit her on the head until she passed out. He then used a lighter to set some files on a table on fire before fleeing, leaving her inside.
Yesterday, his lawyer, Ms A. Sangeetha, sought a jail term of not more than seven years, arguing that "his paternal instincts had overcome his rationality". Govindasamy had gone from being a senior Customs officer to a bankrupt after his corruption conviction and did not want his children, both civil servants, to have the same fate, she said.
The prosecution sought the maximum term of 10 years. It argued that Govindasmy's acts were pre-meditated and calculated, noting that after knocking Madam Low out, he had the presence of mind to search the office for a file containing his children's acknowledgment of debt.
As Govindasamy's family left the court yesterday, his daughter, Ms Letchmi Ghandi Govindasamy, said through tears that the family would "just wait for him to come back".