Man jailed for 6 years acquitted of murder charges

In its ruling on Tuesday, the Court of Appeal acquitted Ismil Kadar - who has been imprisoned for six years - of all charges. (Yahoo! photo)
In its ruling on Tuesday, the Court of Appeal acquitted Ismil Kadar - who has been imprisoned for six years - of all charges. (Yahoo! photo)

An odd-job labourer who spent the past six years in a Singapore prison, including two years on death row, was released from jail on Tuesday after he was cleared of murder charges.

On 6 May 2005, Ismil Kadar, 42, and his younger brother, Muhammad, 35, were accused of murdering housewife Tham Weng Kuen, 69, in her Boon Lay flat.

Both were later convicted in 2009 of carrying out the murder during a robbery.

However, in its ruling declared on Sunday, the Court of Appeal acquitted Ismil of all charges, but dismissed Muhammad's appeal, which means the latter will face the death sentence.

In passing the judgment, the court highlighted the "serious lapses" made by the police and prosecutors. The court was presided by Justices V K Rajah, Tan Ting Chiu and Steven Chong.

Describing the case as "extraordinary", Justice Rajah said the confessions made by Ismil were obtained "in troubling circumstances" as it reflected to be deliberate breaches in procedures rather than carelessness, The Straits Times reported.

He was referring to the statements that Ismil made shortly after he was arrested pertaining to the murder of Tham in which more than 110 stab wounds were inflicted on her in a horror attack.

Lapses in procedures

In one of the said lapses, Senior Station Inspector Zainal Abidin Ismail had interviewed Ismil in a police car and subsequently recorded the first statement on a slip of paper.

Zainal had only transferred it to his field diary much later in the day, which is not in line with standard procedures. Ismil was later taken to a briefing room where he gave the same inspector more details about the alleged attack.

On both occasions, the statements were not read back to Ismil, neither was he given the chance to correct nor sign it. This contravened criminal procedures.

The judges said that, "It seems to us that there was deliberate non-compliance with the procedural requirements rather than mere carelessness or operational necessity."

Justice Rajah also noted that Ismil was in a vulnerable state when his first statement was taken as he was under the influence of drugs, adding that he "was prone to be vulnerable to suggestions and manipulations when… under stress or threat".

The judgment which culminated in a 94-day trial — one of the longest in Singapore's courts — saw various twists and turns.

When the trial first took proceedings in 2006, prosecutors asserted that Ismil attacked Tham while Muhammad ransacked the flat. This assertion was made after Ismil had "confessed" to stabbing her.

In addition, after Muhammad was arrested, he also told police that Ismil was the main culprit. However, during the trial, Ismil maintained his innocence, saying that he was not at the scene and challenged his confessions.

Only one intruder

In a twist of events, Muhammad then revealed that he had single-handedly murdered Tham and that his brother was innocent.

However, both brothers were convicted of murder in April 2009 and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty. Two years later in Jan 2011, they lodged appeals against their sentences.

In the ruling announced on Tuesday, Muhammad had his appeal dismissed, and he remains sentenced to face the gallows for murder.

In the 152-page judgment, the judges also singled out the prosecutors' decision not to disclose three police statements made by the deceased's husband Loh Siew Kow, until 18 months into the trial.

Mr Loh had given detailed accounts in those statements, in which he saw only one intruder in their flat and the one-hour attack on his wife.

With "absolutely" no physical evidence of Ismil having been in the flat and Mr Loh's statements that there was only one assailant, the judges agreed it all pointed to Ismil not being involved.

Justice Rajah also said that the prosecution had an ethical duty to produce the statements as the issue of how many intruders were in the flat went to the very heart of the case.

He underscored that the duty of the prosecution is not "to secure a conviction at all costs" but rather it owes a duty to the court and to the wider public to ensure that only the guilty are convicted, and that all relevant material is placed before the court to "assist it in its determination of the truth".