Tan Cheow Bock v Public Prosecutor

JudgeChua F A J
Judgment Date03 October 1991
Neutral Citation[1991] SGCA 33
Citation[1991] SGCA 33
Defendant CounselAng Sin Teck (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselEdmond Pereira (Assomull Pereira & Partners)
Date03 October 1991
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 17 of 1990
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Subject MatterBurden of proof,Offences,s 300(c) Penal Code (Cap 224),Intention to cause bodily injury sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death,Murder,Criminal Law

Cur Adv Vult

The appellant was convicted on the following charge and was sentenced to death:

That you Tan Cheow Bock on or about 23 September 1980 at about 8.50am at No 32 Maria Avenue, Singapore committed murder by causing the death of one Chia Chun Fong alias Jenny and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under s 302 of the Penal Code (Cap 224).

The facts were as follows.
The deceased was a housewife and she lived at No 32 Maria Avenue (the house). The other occupants of the house at that time were her husband Ong Ka Teck (Ka Teck), his parents Ong Chin Ho and Cheong Lye Hwa (Lye Hwa), the deceased`s husband`s brother Ong Ka Thiam (Ah Yee) and the deceased`s husband`s sister Ong Hong Luan (Hong Luan). Prior to moving to the house, the family was living in Kampong Chai Chee. The appellant was their neighbour and he knew Ka Teck and Ah Yee. The appellant used to visit Ah Yee.

In the morning of 23 September 1980, Ong Chin Ho left early for Chai Chee market where he worked as a butcher.
Ka Teck, Ah Yee and Hong Luan left for work together at about 6.45am. Lye Hwa left for the Chai Chee market at about 7.40am. The deceased was asleep. Before leaving, Lye Hwa closed the front and back doors of the house.

At about 8.20am, Iris Teresa Gomes (`Iris`) who lived at 24 Maria Avenue took her grandson to the house for Lye Hwa to babysit.
The front door was closed and she called to the deceased who then opened the door and took her grandson in. Iris told the deceased to feed her grandson with the milk Iris had prepared. As Iris was leaving, the deceased asked her to leave the front door open as the deceased wanted to let some breeze in. Iris then left.

At about 9am, Lye Hwa returned from the market.
The front door was open, but she did not suspect that anything was wrong and went to the kitchen to put away the food. She saw the baby`s bottle on the dining table and proceeded upstairs. The baby was asleep on the bed in Lye Hwa`s bedroom. When she looked into the deceased`s bedroom, the deceased was not there. Neither was she in the bathroom.

As she entered Ah Yee`s room, she saw the deceased lying motionless on the floor in a pool of blood.
She called to the deceased but there was no response, not even when she shook the deceased. She saw a piece of wood sticking out of the deceased`s mouth. On closer examination, it was the handle of a knife. She tried to pull it out but could not. She then shouted to a neighbour Chan Chee Meng that the deceased had committed suicide. Chan Chee Meng came over. She also called Iris to take her grandson home. A passing police car was hailed. At 9.07am an ambulance arrived. The deceased was pronounced dead.

Professor Chao Tze Cheng, senior forensic pathologist of the Department of Pathology, Singapore General Hospital, was summoned to the house.
He arrived there at 10.30am and after examining the deceased certified that death had occurred at least two hours prior to his examination. He then ordered the body to be removed to Singapore General Hospital mortuary where he conducted an autopsy on the following day, 24 September 1980. His autopsy report was admitted in evidence.

The autopsy report of Prof Chao Tze Cheng revealed that the deceased had suffered a number of injuries.
In addition to bruises and abrasions on several parts of her body, a knife had been stuck in her mouth with only the handle remaining outside. The blade of the knife, which can be described as a kitchen knife, measured 14cm long and had gone into the mouth from left to right of the deceased`s body in a slightly upward direction towards the back of the head.

Prof Chao expressed certain opinions regarding the injuries.
He said that of the 16 external injuries on the deceased, 12 were bruises and abrasions about the head, face, neck, shoulder, mid-sternal, arms and knee regions. These injuries were consistent with being caused by a blunt force such as a punch. Some of them were also consistent with a fall on a hard surface. Of the remaining four injuries, two were pointed abrasions at the right clavicle region and the centre of the mid-sternal region respectively which in Prof Chao`s opinion were caused by a sharp pointed instrument like the pointed end of the knife which was found stuck in the deceased`s mouth.

Prof Chao testified that the fatal injury was the knife wound in the mouth.
In his opinion and having regard to the direction in which the knife had moved when it entered the mouth, that is to say from left to right of the deceased`s body and in a slightly upward direction towards the back of the head, the deceased must have been in a lying position on the floor with the assailant on the right of the deceased. Furthermore the tip of the knife had lodged quite firmly on to the back of the skull in the bone, and the cutting edge of the knife had cut into the bone on the left side of the foramen magnum and was wedged in the foramen magnum. This indicated that a great deal of force was used. In his opinion, the head of the deceased was lying on the floor which would provide the necessary resistance and which would have been absent if the deceased was upright or in a sitting position.

Prof Chao explained by reference to the knife retrieved from the deceased`s mouth how it was possible for the knife to have gone through the soft tissue between the bone when entering through the narrow passage between the first vertebra and the base of the skull (the junction of the nasopharynx and the oropharynx) into the foramen magnum through which the left and right vertebral arteries from the heart go to the brain and join up as the internal carotid artery.
In doing so the sharp cutting edge of the knife had cut the left vertebral artery into two halves which resulted in excessive bleeding and caused the death of the deceased. Death would have occurred in a matter of minutes.

Prof Chao further explained that the mouth was open when the knife entered her mouth.
The clean entry the knife made through the mouth of the deceased caused only a small cut on the centre of the upper lip, a bruise on the centre of the lower lip and a superficial cut of 2.5cm on the surface of the tongue. The bruises and abrasions about the deceased`s face and upper part of the body and two stab wounds on the deceased`s genital region at the labia majora were not fatal. Prof Chao`s evidence was that the deceased had died from haemorrhage from the single stab or thrust wound in the mouth.

Evidence from the police officers and other witnesses established that the deceased`s bedroom (not the one in which her body was found) appeared to have been ransacked.
Two drawers of the dressing table were open and there were what appeared to be bloodstains on the dressing table and cupboard. Certain items were found to be missing, namely, a gold chain with gold pendant, three gold bangles, a gold bracelet, several rings and a gold chain which the deceased had been wearing.

The police also examined the house for fingerprints.
Some prints were found on the dressing table above referred to, telephone receiver and on the front door. These were photographed and sent to Inspector Lau Yeow Khoon who was an assistant registrar of criminals and the inspector in charge of the Fingerprint Section, Criminal Records Office, Criminal Investigation Department. That found on the front door was a left palm print, which was compared with a left palm print taken from the appellant after his arrest and both were identified to be the same. The report of Inspector Lau Yeow Khoon was admitted in evidence without objection or challenge from the defence.

The prosecution adduced evidence from one Wong Woang who in early 1979 was a waitress at the New Anna Bar in Guillemard Road.
She got to know the appellant who was a regular customer. During August 1980, the appellant placed horse bets through Wong Woang. On 20 and 21 September 1980, the appellant lost a total of $1,962. The appellant never paid up.

On 23 May 1987 the appellant was in the custody of the Royal Malaysian Police at Johore Bahru.
He was handed over to Inspector Jaswinder Singh and Detective Corporal Abdul Rahman G Khan in Johore Bahru and was then brought to Singapore where he was duly arrested for the murder of the deceased and taken to the CID.

The prosecution sought to admit in evidence two statements made by the appellant.
They were the statements made to Inspector Akbal Ahmad on 23 May 1987 under s 122(6) of the Criminal Procedure Code (the 122(6) statement) and the statement made to Inspector Jaswinder Singh on 17 and 28 May 1987 under s 121 of the Criminal Procedure Code (the 121 statement). The admission of the 121 statement was not objected to by the defence save for three sentences which the prosecution agreed to have blacked out. Accordingly the 121 statement with the three sentences blacked out was admitted in evidence under s 122(5) of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68) (the CPC) as P54 and acknowledged by defence counsel to have been voluntarily made by the accused. The statement read as follows:

... On 23 September 1980 at about 7.30am, I woke up and after brushing my teeth, left home for the coffee shop at the ground floor of my block for breakfast. After a cup of coffee, I left in a taxi for Maria Avenue. It was then about 8am. My intention was to borrow some money from the deceased`s elder brother-in-law one `Ah Yee`. I wanted to borrow money as I was then indebted to some illegal moneylenders and also in horse puntings. I know `Ah Yee` since childhood days and we have been borrowing money from each other many times.

At about 8.10am, I arrived at No 32 Maria Avenue and paid the taxi driver a sum of $1.20.
This place is a double-storey house. I then went up the flight of steps and reached the front and saw the iron grille gate was not locked. The inner wooden collapsible door was drawn but not locked. I then knocked on the door and the deceased came and opened the door and invited...

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