SINGAPORE - A man who was given 28 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane for raping a 13-year-old girl tried to reverse his conviction and get a lighter sentence, contending that his low intelligence had made it difficult for him to decide whether to plead guilty or to claim trial.
In seeking to retract his guilty plea, Muhammad Alif Ab Rahim, 36, who did not have a lawyer and filed his own written submissions, claimed there were "evidential gaps" in the medical evidence such that certain charges were not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
On Wednesday (Nov 17), a three-judge Court of Appeal rejected Alif's attempt to retract his guilty plea, noting that he had had multiple opportunities to choose how he wanted to plead.
"There is no evidence to suggest that the appellant did not have the genuine freedom to plead guilty," said the court.
As for the impact of his intelligence in relation to his appeal for a lighter sentence, the court said Alif clearly knew the consequences of his actions and was found to have good adaptive functioning.
After the rape, Alif changed into a different set of clothes to evade detection, threatened the victim and her grandmother to prevent them from reporting him to the police, and came up with different versions of events in an attempt to explain away his alleged involvement, the court noted.
The court also dismissed Alif's appeal against his sentence, saying that the sentence imposed was proportionate to the egregiousness of the offences.
"The victim suffered serious harm as he had used significant violence against her in the course of the assaults... in addition, the appellant exhibited significant opportunism, took deliberate steps to conceal his offences and did not use a condom."
A report from the Institute of Mental Health on Dec 4, 2017, stated that Alif's intelligence was in the borderline range, but he did not suffer from intellectual disability as he had good adaptive functioning. No IQ score was presented in court.
Alif, who was then represented by lawyer Gloria James, pleaded guilty in March to one count of rape of a minor and two counts of sexual assault by penetration of a minor.
He admitted that he force-fed vodka to the victim and brutally raped and sexually assaulted her over a harrowing two hours at a secluded part of Kallang Riverside Park on the night of Oct 24, 2017.
His lawyer has since discharged herself.
Alif, whose brushes with crime began at the age of 21, had been jailed five times between 2007 and 2014 for theft, cheating, robbery, criminal breach of trust and sexual assault by penetration.
The victim was acquainted with him through one of her friends and called him "uncle".
On the evening of Oct 24, 2017, meeting her by chance, Alif suggested that they buy drinks and go to the park to chat.
Unnoticed by anyone at the end of the jetty, Ali restrained the victim, forced her to swallow the vodka, and repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted her.
After the attack, the victim crawled to a grass patch near the toilet and sent voice messages via WhatsApp to various people, telling them she had been raped.
The police, who were called that night, tracked Alif down to the home of his girlfriend, where he was hiding in a cupboard in the bedroom.
He initially claimed that he never met the victim that night. A year later, he gave a different version, claiming that the victim had asked him for sex.