Jobless man who killed temple helper in aborted burglary gets 14 years' jail, caning

Loh Suan Lit entered Chin Long Kong Chinese Temple in Teck Whye Lane in the wee hours to steal valuables but panicked when he was caught by victim Tan Poh Huat.
Loh Suan Lit entered Chin Long Kong Chinese Temple in Teck Whye Lane in the wee hours to steal valuables but panicked when he was caught by victim Tan Poh Huat.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - 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 on Monday (Jan 15).

Jobless Loh Suan Lit entered a Choa Chu Kang temple in the wee hours to steal valuables but panicked when he was caught by Tan Poh Huat, who slept on the premises.

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 by Loh could not be established as he told investigators 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.

The killing took place between 2.30am and about 3.10am on Feb 14, 2016, at the Choa Chu Kang Combined Temple on Teck Whye Lane.

In sentencing, Justice Chua Lee Ming accepted arguments by the defence that Loh's attack was not premeditated. However, 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 the evening of Feb 13, 2016, Loh bought a hammer, a saw, a screwdriver and a chisel from a hardware store, intending to break into the temple to steal gold chains placed on religious statues and donations offered by 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 coffeeshop where he took some pills to "get high" and watched a football match.

At about 2.30am the following day, he returned to the temple, putting on a surgical mask, gloves and 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 the temple, he heard Mr Tan shouting "Oi!".

Panicking, Loh reached for a tool and hit Mr Tan repeatedly until the victim became unconscious.

He then climbed out of the temple, returned to his Marsiling flat and later threw away the tools. They were never recovered.

Mr Tan's body was discovered 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 total of $2,868 in cash was found on him.

An autopsy report said that marks found on Loh'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 and conducting investigations.

Loh, who left for Malaysia on Feb 19, was arrested on Feb 24 as he was returning to Singapore via Woodlands checkpoint.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Wen Hsien, argued that there was no reason for Loh to have resorted to violence by assaulting the unarmed victim. Loh's "pre-emptive" strike was a deliberate and calculated act, she said.

Defence counsel Sunil Sudheesan argued that Loh had no intention to silence the victim and that he just wanted to get out.