A gang member who hid in Malaysia for nearly 18 years after stabbing an innocent bystander to death in 1998 was sentenced to 10 years’ jail and 12 strokes of the cane at the High Court on Tuesday (April 24).
Gopikanan Balakrishnan, now 43, had mistaken the victim for a rival gang member while he and four others were out seeking revenge for an attack on a member of their own gang a few weeks earlier.
Gopikanan pleaded guilty to a single charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. He was arrested by the Malaysian authorities on 16 March 2016 and was repatriated the next day.
Court documents show that on the night of 20 August 1998, Gopi met four friends at a pub along Madras Street for a drink.
While there, his friend Ilango Venayagam, now 46, told the group to prepare for a fight with a rival gang. Ilango had wanted revenge for an attack that landed him in hospital a few weeks back. In anticipation of the fight, Ilango prepared a lorry loaded with wooden poles that had been parked outside the pub.
Around midnight, the quintet got wind that the rival gang members were supposedly nearby. Soon after, they saw a group of Indian men walk past the pub. The five friends followed the group in the lorry, arming themselves with the wooden poles. Gopi had also brought along a knife to the confrontation.
The three Indian men soon realised they were being followed and tried to escape by running in different directions. Gopi and his four friends eventually caught up with them somewhere near Dunlop Street and Upper Dickson Road and attacked them, weapons in hand.
The commotion woke up P. Magalingam Pattu Thevar, who was sleeping in a public space nearby. The Indian national, then 42, saw the fight and ran. This caught Gopi’s attention. He gave chase thinking that Magalingam was a rival gang member.
Gopi managed to grab Magalingam by his collar and stabbed him in the back once. Magalingam broke free and continued to run. Undeterred, Gopi continued chasing and caught him again.
This time Magalingam was stabbed in the back at least three times, which left two fatal wounds more than 10cm deep. The knife, which was never found by the police, had a 15.5cm blade according to Gopi.
Gopi and his friends spent the night at a nearby hotel and went their separate ways at about 4am. A few days later Gopi used someone else’s passport and fled to Malaysia.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Wen Hsien asked the court for 10 years’ jail and 12 strokes of the cane.
Gopi had “no qualms using violence against persons unknown to him”, said Tan. The premeditated attack involved a deadly weapon and was “vicious and unrelenting”.
The fact that it was gang related also mattered because “group violence feeds on itself and causes more violence”, added Tan.
In mitigation, Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi argued that his client did not meet his friends with the intention of getting into a fight; he had only found out about the clash after his arrival. “He’s not a leader, but a follower” who was influenced by Ilango, said Thio who asked for a sentence of eight years and six strokes.
Thio also pointed out that while Gopi knew right from wrong, he also has a below-average intelligence. Tan countered that intelligence tests showed Gopi only underperformed in one area of the test, but was average in all other aspects.
Court documents stated that Gopi had also undergone psychiatric assessments and was found to not have been suffering from any mental disorders – nor was he of unsound mind – at the time of offence.
Judge Hoo Sheau Peng agreed with the prosecution. Hoo said she was “particularly troubled by the nature of the attack”.
Gopi’s sentence has been backdated to 17 March 2016 when he was arrested. For culpable homicide not amounting to murder, he could have been jailed for life, caned and fined.
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