The teen accomplice of Anthony Ler, who infamously plotted the murder of his wife and got the death penalty, is finally out of jail after about 17 years behind bars.
Now 32, he was released on Nov 2, after his petition for clemency was granted by President Halimah Yacob on the advice of the Cabinet. But his release is subject to conditions, such as curfew hours and electronic monitoring, and he will continue to get rehabilitative support to aid his reintegration into society, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told The Straits Times.
There remains a gag order on his identity because of his age when he committed the crime.
In May 2001, at the behest of Ler, the then 15-year-old stabbed 30-year-old Annie Leong multiple times outside the lift on the fourth floor of the Housing Board flat in Hougang where she was staying. Madam Leong had been on the way back to the flat to take a pen to sign some documents brought by her estranged husband Ler, who was waiting downstairs with their then four-year-old daughter.
She died several hours later from her wounds.
In December that year, the lanky, bespectacled teenager was found guilty of murder, but as he was below the age of 18, he was spared the noose and detained at the President's pleasure. Ler, who offered the teen $100,000 and even made him slash a bolster as practice, was hanged in December 2002 at the age of 35 for abetment of murder.
Lawyer Peter Ong Lip Cheng applied for clemency for the accomplice last year.
About the case
Anthony Ler played the grieving widower at Madam Annie Leong's funeral, telling The New Paper in an interview that while he may have been a bad, philandering husband, he would never have killed her. But the financially-troubled Ler had two motives for killing his estranged wife - to keep their $480,000 maisonette and get full custody of their four-year-old daughter.
A few months before the killing, he approached a group of teenagers, offering $100,000 if they helped him kill his wife. The youngest of them, who was 15, finally carried out the deed. According to the court, the boy was led to believe that he should either kill Madam Leong or be killed himself. A key piece of evidence found at the scene of the killing was a page from The New Paper which was used to wrap the murder weapon. The rest of the newspaper, which the torn piece came from, was found in Ler's Pasir Ris home.
Yesterday, an MHA spokesman told The Straits Times: "The President, on the advice of the Cabinet, had exercised her powers of clemency and granted the subject a remission of the remaining part of his sentence."
The subject's good conduct and rehabilitation progress, the length of his sentence served thus far, as well as the circumstances of his case, were the factors considered in granting the clemency, added the spokesman. "For example, the trial judge had found that the subject, who was 15 at the time of the offence, had been manipulated by Ler," said the spokesman.
To be detained at the President's pleasure is a legal term that means that the convicted person will be jailed indefinitely. The prisoner will have his conduct in prison reviewed periodically, until he is found suitable for release.
Since 2010, the Criminal Procedure Code was amended such that those under 18 who commit capital crimes are sentenced to life imprisonment instead of being held at the President's pleasure, and must serve a minimum period of 20 years before being considered for release.
Since 2012, three inmates held at the President's pleasure were freed after serving between 13 and 19 years in jail.
Mr Ong, from Chung Ting Fai & Co, said last night that he was grateful to the President for the chance given to Ler's accomplice "to have his life back".
Mr Ong, who was one of two defence lawyers for the then teenager, said his client has evolved from being a naive and weak-minded boy to a resilient young man, eager to make amends and put his past behind him. "He has done well while serving time, matured considerably and has been studying for a degree while in prison," he added.
The gag order on his client's identity will help him reintegrate into society, said Mr Ong. "He is also not authorised to speak to the media as part of the conditions during the electronic monitoring phase. His privacy should be respected as he strives to reintegrate into the community with support of family and friends."