A Hong Kong man was jailed for three years on Friday for attacking his wife with a shovel and a cleaver and then strangling her because she had left him for another man but refused to return the Cartier watch that commemorated their marriage.
The High Court heard Lai Yiu-tong’s assault during his family’s winter solstice dinner at their Tai Po house last year was so violent that the 63-year-old broke the shovel and sent his wife to hospital for a month.
But Madam Justice Esther Toh Lye-ping accepted the mitigation that the father of two was “an exemplary citizen of Hong Kong” who had acted completely out of character and showed clear remorse, as reflected by his early guilty plea to one count of wounding with intent.
“Clearly this is a very sad case not only for the victim but also for the defendant,” the judge said.
Public prosecutor Cherry Chong Man-yan said Lai and his wife Chan Ming-fung were in the middle of a divorce, allocating matrimonial properties after 35 years of marriage at the time of assault.
Their disagreement escalated at around 10.30pm on December 21, 2018 when Chan refused Lai’s repeated request to return a Cartier watch, which had been bought as a pair to commemorate their love and marriage.
Clearly this is a very sad case not only for the victim but also for the defendant
Judge Esther Toh
Without warning, Lai collected a shovel from the garden and used the 36cm-long blade to slash Chan’s neck and slam her head for several times, causing her to fall.
The shovel broke into two pieces, with the blade separating from the shaft.
But Lai persisted with the attack, despite his son’s attempt to hold him back, and used a cleaver to chop at Chan’s head several times while he pulled her hair.
Her mother shouted: “Stop attacking or she will die! She’s bleeding a lot!”
When Chan finally lost consciousness, their son put up a struggle with Lai and managed to disarm him.
But Lai only calmed down for a while before approaching Chan again to strangle her with his bare hands.
Chan was sent to Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin after police arrived.
A medical examination found that she had sustained multiple deep laceration wounds on her limbs, cheek, ear, neck and scalp.
She was transferred to intensive care after 17 hours of surgery.
Her latest medical report showed that most of her wounds have since healed and she could walk unaided.
Lai had no prior convictions.
The court heard he was the sole proprietor of a land investment consultancy who used to give all his earnings to his wife and led a simple life with no vices, his only hobby being hiking with friends.
Mitigation letters depicted him as a good father and a charitable man who had been sponsoring students in mainland China to go to university for the past 15 to 20 years while offering free meal tickets and arthritis medicine to the needy every month.
His own letter to the court revealed that he had been depressed and sleep-deprived due to frequent arguments with his wife. So when she refused to hand over the watch and made certain provocative remarks against his integrity, the argument was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and he got very angry.
His defence counsel Jackson Poon argued it was a spur-of-the-moment attack and completely out of character.
The lack of premeditation in the crime was acknowledged by the judge, who further remarked that it was unfortunate for a man of such character to face divorce because his wife had met another man through her love of dancing.
“However, society cannot condone violence of any kind, especially in a domestic situation,” Toh said. “Punishment must necessarily follow as a deterrent to others thinking of committing violence at home.”
Wounding with intent is punishable by life imprisonment.