Ex-gang member jailed for fatal stabbing in 1998

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 yesterday 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, 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 attack.

Around midnight, Gopikanan and his group heard that the rival gang was nearby. He took 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.

Gopikanan's gang then 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 in the back of the truck.

The 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 tried to run away from the scene.

Gopikanan thought he was a member of the rival gang and grabbed him by the back of his collar. Mr Magalingam struck Gopikanan with his elbow and caused him to drop his pole.

Gopikanan then drew his knife and stabbed Mr Magalingam once in the back. The victim managed to break free and run but Gopikanan caught up with him and stabbed him repeatedly in the back.

After leaving the scene with his gang members, Gopikanan 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 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 yesterday 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 their client thought Mr Magalingam was a rival gang member but now accepts he may have been mistaken as he was highly intoxicated at the time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2018, with the headline 'Ex-gang member jailed for fatal stabbing in 1998'. Print Edition | Subscribe