Geylang trial: Rag-and-bone man guilty of murdering coffee-shop helper, prosecution not seeking death penalty
The prosecution said it would not be seeking the death penalty for Toh Sia Guan, 67, who was convicted of murder on Feb 12, 2020.
A 67-year-old rag-and-bone man known to some regulars in the Geylang area as "Hong Qigong", or “chief of the beggars” in Chinese folklore, was found guilty on Wednesday (Feb 12) of murdering a coffee-shop helper.
The court heard that Toh Sia Guan felt 52-year-old Goh Eng Thiam was staring at him fiercely at a coffee shop at about 8am on July 9, 2016, and the two men got into a verbal and physical tiff. Toh then went to buy a knife and returned to find Toh — stabbing him to death.
After the guilty verdict, the prosecution said it was not seeking the death penalty. The only other option is life imprisonment.
However, High Court Justice Aedit Abdullah said he would like to exercise his discretion, and would hear sentencing submissions and pass sentence at a later date.
One of Toh’s lawyers, Mr Wong Seow Pin, briefly stated his position on Wednesday. He said Toh shouldn’t be sentenced to death as “circumstances of the case did not show that he is a vicious person or has a blatant disregard for human life”.
In convicting Toh, Justice Aedit noted that there was “only circumstantial evidence” on whether Toh inflicted the fatal injury and what his state of mind was since no one witnessed the stabbing. No other evidence directly implicated Toh, he added.
But the judge said an “irresistible inference” allowed him to establish that Toh had intentionally caused Goh’s fatal injury.
Toh had claimed trial over the charge. His lawyers, Mr Wong and Ms Dew Wong, had mounted the defence that he was trying to protect himself at the time of the fatal stabbing.
But Justice Aedit said: “Going back to the same area armed with a knife so soon after (their first intense fight) within half an hour cannot credibly be about protecting himself.
“The irresistible inference is that the accused wanted to confront the deceased.”
The judge added that footage from a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera had also captured Toh charging at Goh. This led him to conclude that whatever Toh’s earlier intentions may have been, by that point, he wanted to cause injury to Goh.
HOW THE ATTACK ERUPTED
In their closing submissions during the trial, Deputy Public Prosecutors Eugene Lee, Claire Poh and Senthilkumaran Sabapathy stated that the fight leading to Goh’s death erupted that morning as Toh interrupted a phone call between Goh and his flat mate by asking if he sold sex drugs.
Within 32 minutes of their first encounter, Goh was pronounced dead at 8.11am, they added.
Over the course of Toh’s trial, the court heard evidence from Mr Yeo Kok Chong, Goh’s flatmate who was on the phone. He testified that Toh had provoked Goh into saying: “I am not a drug peddler! You don’t find me! Don’t keep asking me!” before they started fighting.
Mr Yeo also heard Goh shout a Hokkien vulgarity at the accused before he heard a “piak” sound, which was the sound made when Goh lost the grip on his phone as a fight broke out between them at about 7.40am.
A CCTV camera that captured this fight showed Goh grabbing Toh’s bicycle, carrying it towards the back of a lorry parked along Lorong 23 Geylang and swinging the bicycle in Toh’s direction, causing it to fall to the ground.
Toh then retrieved a wooden stick from the lorry and used it to hit Goh’s head before the two men grabbed each other by the shoulders and exchanged blows to the chest and head area of one another.
According to Toh, he disengaged from Goh by seeking shelter at HCSA Highpoint Halfway House, which is located on that street, but Goh continued to taunt him by standing outside.
At about 7.45am, Toh left Highpoint through the back door and entered a shop at Lorong 25 Geylang, where he bought a pair of yellow slippers to put on immediately and a knife.
At this time, Goh, who appeared to be injured on the back of his head and right forearm, was cleaning himself at the back alley of Lorong 23 Geylang with someone’s help.
Goh returned to the coffee-shop area at about 7.51am, and Toh arrived with the knife in his right hand about three minutes later.
As Goh was walking in the direction of the coffee shop, Toh charged towards the middle of the room in his direction and attacked him, the DPPs said.
Goh was stabbed on his right upper arm, scalp area and chest area. The knife also cut the left side of his face and the left sleeve of Goh’s shirt indicating that the knife was also directed at his left upper arm.
Goh also suffered cuts to both his hands, likely to have been caused when he used his hands to defend himself from the knife attack.
By the time a witness had seen what was going on, the fight had been underway for one minute.
Goh’s shirt was already soaked in blood to such an extent that the witness thought he was wearing a red shirt.
The witness also saw that Goh appeared to be losing and to have no more strength left in him, and that Toh broke free and ran off quickly.
A taxi’s in-camera footage captured the aftermath of this second fight.
Goh did not give chase and instead stooped down to pick up his mobile phone. He then lay on the road and rested his head on the curb as the witness called for an ambulance.
Toh was arrested at Labrador Park MRT station 12 days later on July 21, 2016, after the police received information that he was in the area.
A police inspector who took Toh’s statement testified that Toh had queried him in Hokkien on whether he committed murder or culpable homicide.
When the inspector replied that it was not his role to make such a decision, Toh — who had previously given a detailed blow-by-blow account of the fights — then claimed that he did not know how he had stabbed Goh, the DPPs said.
Toh also claimed that he had returned to the scene to find his bicycle.
When questioned why he dashed across the road, Toh claimed that he was merely crossing to the middle of the road in order to look for his bicycle on the other side of the road.
The court heard that Toh identifies himself with Qigong as he sees himself to be like a beggar, picking up cans and cardboard for a living.
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