SINGAPORE - A 31-year-old man who was hired when he was 15 by Anthony Ler to kill Ler’s wife in a high-profile murder in 2001 has applied to the President for clemency.
He is serving an indefinite jail term and has been behind bars for 16 years.
His lawyer Peter Ong Lip Cheng, who submitted the petition for him, said the 31-year-old has done well while serving time, matured considerably and is studying for a degree while in prison.
Speaking to The Sunday Times on Saturday (Nov 25), he added the application, which the Istana received on Nov 17, has been supported by counsellors, friends and others in contact with him during his term in prison.
The man's identity was not publicised then as he was a juvenile when the crime was committed.
Mr Ong said: "He has consistently shown remorse, maturity and understanding of what he has done. If given the chance, he would also be a standing and active testimony to youths of the consequences of crime, and share his personal story in redeeming himself."
The counsel was speaking from Chongqing, China where he is attending a course.
Z knifed Annie Leong, a 30-year-old insurance agent, as instructed by Ler, her estranged husband.
Investigations showed he was manipulated and instigated by Ler to kill her so Ler can retain their Housing Board (HDB) flat and custody of their daughter, who was then four years old.
Z attacked Ms Leong from behind at the fourth floor lift landing of a HDB block in Hougang on May 14 2001. She died later in hospital from multiple knife wounds to her neck and chest.
He was convicted and sentenced to be detained at the President's Pleasure given his age then, while accomplice Ler was convicted and sentenced to death. Ler was executed on Dec 13 2002.
To be detained at the President's Pleasure is to be jailed for an indefinite term, subject to a periodic review.
Then Judicial Commissioner Tay Yong Kwang, who heard the case, said during the trial that "Anthony Ler hatched the idea of killing his wife, taught Z how to do it cleanly, kept egging him on and finally practically forced him to commit the offence".
Z was described as "a rather simple-minded and mild-mannered boy ensnared haplessly way out of season in adult intrigue and machinations...he was no killer and had too much conscience and compassion".
Z's admissions of "self-loathing and utter confusion after the murder" were accepted by the court.
In his statements to the police when confessing to the crime, Z had written: "How I wished that I had never known Anthony. I have let my parents down and all those people around me. I do not know how people would think of me. I feel very lost and confused."
Mr Ong said Z's remorse and desire to change have been borne out by his work in prison in the last 16 years. He has been a model inmate with no record of misbehaviour.
Among other things, he has studied diligently through to his A-levels and encouraged others to study and improve themselves as well. He also maintained close ties with his family in letters which showed character growth, he added.
Mr Ong, who was one of two lawyers defending Z during the 2001 trial, said Z has evolved from being the naïve and weak-minded boy then to a resilient young man today, eager to make amends for his wrongdoings.
He said a 2002 Singapore report to a United Nations committee of convicted persons below the age of 18 detained at the President's Pleasure, showed they can be considered for release after serving about 13 years of imprisonment.
The cases are reviewed after every four years but after the 10th year, they are reviewed annually, he said.
"This appeal is timely but is not merely about the time served so far, but also on the evidence of his growth, maturity and readiness to contribute to society."
The case of Anthony Ler
The Anthony Ler trial in 2001 gripped the nation, not only because he hired a 15-year-old to kill his estranged wife Annie Leong, but for the show he put on to hide his crime.
Ms Leong, 30, was stabbed multiple times outside the lift on the fourth-floor of the Housing Board flat where she was living with her mother and her then four-year-old daughter.
At her wake, Ler sat down with a New Paper reporter and admitted being a bad husband, that he “fouled up” their marriage with an affair and his gambling, calling her the angel and himself the devil.
But he insisted he was innocent.
Two days after the interview, Ler, then 34, was arrested at his Pasir Ris home and it emerged that he had offered the secondary school student $100,000 to kill Ms Leong, and even coached him on how to stab her in the neck.
Ler was sentenced to death and was hanged on Dec 13, 2002.
Because of his age, the boy was spared the death penalty and detained indefinitely at the President’s pleasure.