Decision still pending on fate of convicted murderer Jabing Kho

SINGAPORE - The fate of convicted murderer Jabing Kho, who made an 11th hour bid more than two weeks ago to stave off his execution, continues to hang in the balance as a five-judge Court of Appeal mulls over his lawyer's arguments to quash his death sentence.

Kho, a 31-year-old from Sarawak, was due to go to the gallows on Nov 6 for the brutal murder of a construction worker seven years ago, after his appeal for clemency was rejected by the President last month.

Less than 24 hours before he was set to be hanged, his newly appointed lawyer Chandra Mohan K Nair succeeded in getting a temporary stay of execution so that he can have time to prepare his case.

On Monday (Nov 23), Mr Mohan argued for the five-judge appeal court, which gave a split 3-2 verdict in January in favour of sending Kho to the gallows, to set aside its own decision.

Mr Mohan argued that the court should re-open its previous decision as errors had been made.

In 2008, Kho bludgeoned construction worker Cao Ruyin, 40, with a tree branch while robbing him. The Chinese national died from head injuries six days later.

He was given the death penalty - then mandatory for murder - in 2010. His appeal failed but he was re-sentenced to life imprisonment in 2013, after the law was changed to give judges the discretion to opt for a life term for murder with no intention to cause death.

The prosecution appealed.

In its landmark judgment, the appeal court ruled that the appropriate legal test to apply for whether the death penalty was justified was whether the actions of the offender would outrage the feelings of the community. It was a principle laid down in a local 1970s case of kidnapping for ransom.

On Monday, Mr Mohan argued that the court had applied the wrong legal principle. However, when pressed by the judges on what should be the correct test, the lawyer was unable to offer an alternative.

Mr Mohan also argued that the appeal court had denied Kho the chance to testify as to the number of blows and force used when he attacked Mr Cao.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Ng argued that Kho's assertion is simply a disappointed litigant's attempt to convince the court to revisit a point that has been thoroughly considered.

Kho's mother and sister, who were in court for the hearing, spoke to him briefly after the hearing, holding his hands. They left the courtroom with tears in their eyes and declined to be interviewed when approached by the media.

The court will give its decision at a later date. Kho's stay of execution was extended.