Culprit gets 10 years’ jail, 12 strokes of the cane after 18 years on the run for fatal stabbing

SINGAPORE - A former gang member has been sentenced to 10 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane for a fatal stabbing he committed 20 years ago when he attacked an innocent passer-by in Little India.

Gopikanan Balakrishnan, 43, pleaded guilty on Monday (April 23) to a charge of culpable homicide for repeatedly stabbing Mr P. Magalingam Pattu Thevar near a carpark in Dickson Road in the early hours of Aug 21, 1998.

He attacked the 42-year-old Indian national after mistaking him for a member of a rival gang.

Gopikanan, who was then 24, skipped town after the killing and was arrested only on March 17, 2016, after being repatriated from Malaysia. It was not mentioned in court how he was caught in Malaysia.

The High Court heard that on the night before the attack, Gopikanan and five other gang members met at a pub in Madras Street to prepare for a revenge fight with a rival gang.

At around midnight, Gopikanan and his group heard that the rival gang was nearby. Gopikanan got a knife from a friend in the pub and tucked the weapon into his waistband.

They left the pub around two hours later and chased a group of men who walked past.

Instead of going after the rival group on foot, Gopikanan's gang decided to pursue them on a lorry that was parked outside. One of them drove while Gopikanan and the others armed themselves with wooden poles from the back of the truck.

Gopikanan's gang got down from the lorry in Dunlop Street near Dickson Road and attacked the other group with their wooden poles.

During the melee, Mr Magalingam, who was sleeping nearby, woke up and started running away.

Gopikanan thought he was a member of the rival gang and gave chase and grabbed him by the back of his collar.

Mr Magalingam struck him with his elbow and caused Gopikanan to drop his pole.

Gopikanan then took the knife and stabbed Mr Magalingam once in the back. He managed to break free and ran but Gopikanan caught up and stabbed him repeatedly in the back.

Gopikanan left Mr Magalingam bleeding on the pavement and left the scene with his gang members. He washed the blood off his hands, shirt and knife before throwing the weapon into a rubbish bin.

The knife was never recovered.

One of the gang members was arrested when he returned to the lorry later that day. Gopikanan and the rest went their separate ways. He fled to Malaysia a few days later using another person's passport.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Wen Hsien sought 10 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane for Gopikanan, arguing on Monday that he had used gratuitous violence in the vicious attack, which led to the death of an innocent victim.

Gopikanan's assigned lawyers, Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi and Mr Anand Nalachandran, said Gopikanan believed Mr Magalingam was a member of the rival gang but now accepts that he may have been mistaken as he was highly intoxicated at the time.

The defence argued that Gopikanan had armed himself as a precaution as he was aware that the rival gang had parangs and had previously stabbed his friend in the neck.