Eu Lim Hoklai v Public Prosecutor

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeChan Sek Keong CJ
Subject MatterWeight of Evidence,Criminal Law,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing,Evidence
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 14 of 2009 (Criminal Case No 1 of 2008)
Plaintiff CounselSubhas Anandan and Sunil Sudheesan (KhattarWong)
Hearing Date06 September 2010
Defendant CounselWinston Cheng Howe Ming, Charlene Tay and Lau Kah Hee (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Published date20 April 2011
Date12 April 2011
V K Rajah JA (delivering the judgment of the court): Introduction

This is an appeal brought by Eu Lim Hoklai (“the accused”) against the decision of the trial judge (“the Judge”) in Public Prosecutor v Eu Lim Hoklai [2009] SGHC 151 (“the Judgment”) that held him guilty of the murder of one Yu Hongjin (“the deceased”) on Sunday, 18 June 2006. The accused was found to have caused the deceased’s death by strangling her, thus committing an offence under s 300(c) of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed) (“Penal Code”). The Judge rejected all the defences the accused had raised and, upon convicting him, imposed the mandatory death sentence.

Background The accused

At the time of the alleged offence, the accused was 52 years of age and had been married for 28 years. For 22 years, he and his wife operated a food stall selling cooked seafood in Tampines. They earned profits of between $3,000 and $4,000 a month from this business. From this, they paid themselves a monthly combined salary of $2,200. The accused has three daughters – the youngest is a 17-year-old polytechnic student. The accused’s own formal schooling went no further than a Primary 3 education. He is unable to read English and his preferred spoken language is Hokkien; he is, however, able to communicate in basic Mandarin.

Every morning, before that fateful day on 18 June 2006, the accused would buy seafood for his business from the market at Blk 409 Ang Mo Kio – only a few blocks away from the massage parlour at Blk 416, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10, #01-985, known as Feng Ye Beauty and Healthcare Centre (“Feng Ye”) where the incident took place.

The deceased

Little is known of the deceased’s background. She was, at the time of her death, 29 years of age and a national of the People’s Republic of China (“China”). It is not known when she first came to Singapore or what status she held whilst residing here. Her son was studying in Singapore at the time of her death. The accused describes her as a “Pei Du Ma Ma” (a Mandarin term) or “study mama” – a reference to mothers (usually from China) who accompany their children to Singapore in order for the latter to receive primary and secondary-level education.2 After her death, her 10-year-old son returned with the deceased’s sister to China.3 It also appears that while the deceased was ostensibly “accompanying” her son in Singapore, the two did not, in fact, live together. According to the accused, the boy resided with another individual who also provided tuition for a monthly fee of $800.

The deceased, who worked as a masseuse, appears to have lived alone in her flat at Ang Mo Kio.4 In March 2005, she began work at a massage parlour in Serangoon near Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 known as “Man Tian Ti” (“Man Tian Ti”). Subsequently, she ceased to work at Man Tian Ti and on 8 March 2006, she – together with an individual called Toh Ah Fong (“Toh”) – registered the Feng Ye massage business (referred to at [3] above) in Toh’s name. Thereafter, she appears to have run the business as her own.

Aside from these few scraps of information, no other evidence has been adduced by the Prosecution about the deceased – about her life in Singapore, her family, friends, relationships and most crucially her state of mind at the time of her death. Unfortunately, there does not appear to have been any attempt made to locate and interview those who might have been close to her; nor to identify those individuals who might have interacted with her in the days leading up to her untimely end. All that this Court (and the Judge below) has before it is the accused’s account of his relationship with her and his account of her actions and state of mind. This is not an altogether satisfactory state of affairs.

Relationship between the accused and the deceased

The accused’s account of his relationship with the deceased is as follows: the two first met in March 2005, when the deceased was working at Man Tian Ti. The accused regularly had his hair cut at a barber’s just a few shops away from Man Tian Ti and, one day – by chance – he happened to be walking by Man Tian Ti when the deceased approached him and offered to give him a massage. He returned regularly thereafter as he enjoyed her services.

By June 2005, their relationship had become intimate. They frequented hotels in Geylang where they had sex. The accused claims that he supported the deceased financially over the course of their relationship. He would give her money when she asked; he paid for her flight back to China to visit her family and even acted as a guarantor for her stay in Singapore.5 When she left her job at Man Tian Ti in order to set up Feng Ye, the accused provided her with over $8,000 to set up the business. In his statement to the police dated 23 June 2006, the accused said that he considered her his mistress, though he subsequently acknowledged under cross-examination that he was not entirely certain of the implications of the word “mistress”.6 He did state that he had managed, over the course of the year or so that they were together, to have successfully concealed the nature of their relationship from his family. However, a few days before the deceased’s death, he told his second and third daughters that the deceased was his partner in the massage parlour business and owed him money. He also showed them the location of Feng Ye and the rented flat where the deceased lived, though he did not give them details of his personal relationship with the deceased.

According to the accused, he would visit the deceased two to three times a month when she was working at Man Tian Ti in Serangoon. When she moved to operate Feng Ye in Ang Mo Kio, the visits became more frequent: he would visit the shop two to three mornings a week to help her open and clean the place before proceeding to his stall at Tampines.

Their close relationship soured irretrievably after 14 June 2006. The accused became convinced that the deceased had spent the night of 13 June 2006 with another man and, believing that the deceased had cheated on him, he confronted her at her home the next day and they had a heated quarrel: the accused wanted to end their relationship while the deceased refused to do so and became angry. According to the accused, she “slapped [him] and punched [his] head”7 in the course of their argument and threatened to cause trouble with his family if he ended their relationship without substantial monetary compensation. They met and quarrelled several times in the following days and these frequent quarrels had a marked effect on the accused’s mood. A psychiatric assessment carried out by Dr Kenneth Koh following the offence concluded the accused had, as a result of these quarrels with the deceased, begun to experience symptoms associated with depression of moderate severity: his mood was disturbed, he had difficulty sleeping, suffered from diminished concentration and loss of appetite and had many ruminative thoughts about his unhappy and difficult state.8

Finally, whether over the phone or in person, the accused could not be sure, the deceased asked the accused to meet her at the massage parlour on the morning of 18 June 2006 in order to “settle [their] matter once and for all”.9 He agreed to do so.

The facts

18 June 2006 was a Sunday; it was also Father’s Day. That morning, the accused’s daughters went marketing on their father’s behalf so that he might have the opportunity to sleep in and rest.10 They also planned to take him out for a dim sum lunch. However, some hours before the planned family outing, the accused left home on the pretext of going to exchange some of the fish his daughters had bought that morning; instead, he went to the massage parlour to meet the deceased.

At 10.56am, the accused’s second daughter received a telephone call from her father asking her to go to Feng Ye quickly as he was in danger. She recalled the name of the massage parlour from the conversation she had with her father (see [8] above) and she proceeded immediately to the parlour’s location at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10. Upon reaching the place, she could not find a way into the premises. The front door was locked. When she asked the proprietess of the neighbouring hair salon if there was a connecting door between the two premises she was told that there was none. She then contacted the police at 11.14am and was subsequently joined by several police officers, her mother and sister.

The accused’s wife was the first to gain entry to the massage parlour through its back door. She found the accused and deceased in the third of three massage cubicles: the deceased was lying on her back on top of the massage table with a knife in her hand; the accused was found lying (similarly face up) on the carpeted floor next to the massage table on which the deceased was found. When the paramedics arrived at the scene, they examined the deceased and pronounced her dead at 11.41am. The accused was in a semi-conscious state and only hazily aware of his surroundings. He was taken immediately to hospital, where he was found to have sustained nine stab wounds to his abdomen. Four of these had penetrated the abdominal cavity; however, none of his internal organs were injured. He underwent an operation to close his wounds and recovered fully thereafter.

The expert evidence Dr Wee Keng Poh

The autopsy report11 (AZ20061667) was prepared by Dr Wee Keng Poh (“Dr Wee”), a consultant Forensic Pathologist with the Health Sciences Authority (“HSA”). Dr Wee arrived at the massage parlour at 2.35pm on 18 June 2006 and carried out the autopsy on the deceased the next day on 19 June 2006. He noted the position of the body and the presence of blood spots and smudges on the deceased. He then examined the body at the scene and estimated the time of death to have been six to 12 hours before the time of examination. Dr Wee noted in his report that the timing was consistent with the history of a fight at about...

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    ...which bears the burden of establishing their case theory beyond a reasonable doubt. As stated in Eu Lim Hoklai v Public Prosecutor [2011] SGCA 16 at [64]: “... where the court cannot decide with any degree of certainty between alternate case theories, the benefit of the doubt has to be give......
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    ...which bears the burden of establishing their case theory beyond a reasonable doubt. As stated in Eu Lim Hoklai v Public Prosecutor [2011] SGCA 16 at [64]: “... where the court cannot decide with any degree of certainty between alternate case theories, the benefit of the doubt has to be give......
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