14 years, 6 strokes for 'brutal' temple killing

Loh Suan Lit (in red) with police investigators at the scene of the crime at Choa Chu Kang Combined Temple in March 2016.
Loh Suan Lit (in red) with police investigators at the scene of the crime at Choa Chu Kang Combined Temple in March 2016.ST FILE PHOTO

Temple helper who caught burglar during break-in was bludgeoned to death

A burglar who bludgeoned a temple helper to death during a break-in was sentenced to 14 years' jail and six strokes of the cane yesterday.

Loh Suan Lit, who is jobless, entered Choa Chu Kang Combined Temple in Teck Whye Lane at around 2.30am on Feb 14, 2016, to steal valuables but panicked when he was caught by Mr Tan Poh Huat, who was sleeping there.

Loh reached for a tool from his backpack and repeatedly bludgeoned the 53-year-old, leaving him with 93 external injuries all over his body, fractures to his skull, jaw and nose, and a burst eyeball.

He died from a crushed voice box.

The weapon used could not be established as Loh said he was unable to recall the details of the attack.

Loh pleaded guilty to one charge of culpable homicide and one unrelated charge of burgling a stall at Beauty World Food Centre.

In sentencing, Justice Chua Lee Ming accepted the defence's argument that Loh's attack was not premeditated. But the High Court judge agreed with prosecutors that the attack was "brutal and vicious", pointing to the number of injuries.

The court heard that on Feb 13, 2016, Loh bought a hammer, saw, screwdriver and chisel, intending to break into the temple to steal gold chains placed on religious statues and donations from devotees.

That night, he made his way to the temple with the tools in his backpack. As there were still people around, he left and went to a nearby coffee shop where he took some pills to "get high" and watched a football match.

At around 2.30am the following day, he returned to the temple, wearing a surgical mask, gloves and a cap. Loh climbed over the back wall and walked around, trying to prise open several locked doors using his tools. But he realised he was making too much noise and decided to stop. As he was leaving, he heard Mr Tan shouting "Oi!"

Panicking, Loh reached for a tool and hit Mr Tan repeatedly, knocking him unconscious. He then climbed out of the temple, returned to his Marsiling flat and threw away the tools. They were not recovered.

Mr Tan's body was found at about 7am by another helper. He was covered in blood and there were bloodstains on the floor, chairs and ladder near his body. Trails of blood led to the back gate. A sum of $2,868 in cash was found on him.

An autopsy report said marks found on Mr Tan's head and body were consistent with the use of an object with a circular head, such as a hammer. Police established Loh's identity after reviewing surveillance footage. Loh, who left for Malaysia on Feb 19 that year, was arrested on Feb 24 as he returned to Singapore via Woodlands checkpoint. Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Wen Hsien said there was no reason for Loh to assault the unarmed victim.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2018, with the headline '14 years, 6 strokes for 'brutal' temple killing'. Print Edition | Subscribe