Man who fatally assaulted temple helper gets 14 years' jail, 6 strokes

Hannah Teoh
Senior Content Producer
Yahoo News Singapore file photo

A botched housebreaking attempt at a temple resulted in the would-be burglar bludgeoning another man to death.

At the High Court on Monday (15 January), 49-year-old Loh Suan Lit pleaded guilty to one charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and one charge of housebreaking. He was sentenced to a total of 14 years’ jail and six strokes of the cane.

An additional charge of housebreaking was taken into consideration for Loh’s sentencing.

The court heard that the victim, 53-year-old Tan Poh Huat, was a helper at the Choa Chu Kang Combined Temple on Teck Whye Lane. At the time, Tan slept in an open area on the temple’s ground floor.

Loh and Tan became acquainted sometime before 2008 over a game of mahjong. Loh lent Tan $200 during the game and they did not see each other again until 2016.

Loh claimed that sometime before Tan’s death, they had met again near the temple. Loh tried to ask for the return of the loan but was rebuffed. They parted ways after a scuffle.

Sometime before the attempted burglary on 14 February 2016, Loh – who had fallen into financial difficulty since his last employment stint ended in October 2015 – went to the temple to pray.

While there, he noticed a few gold chains placed on some of the statutes and money in a donation box. He then formed a plan to steal the items and cash.

At about 10.30pm on 13 February 2016, Low visited the temple with the intention of carrying out his burglary. He had with him a backpack containing a hammer, saw, screwdriver and chisel – all of which he had purchased from a hardware store earlier that day.

Seeing that there were still people inside the temple, Loh decided to leave and return when no one was around. He then went to a nearby coffeeshop and consumed some pink tablets – later revealed to be anti-anxiety drugs – before returning to the temple compound at about 2.30am.

He attempted to pry open several locked doors but stopped when he realised he was making too much noise.

As Loh attempted to leave the temple compound, Tan discovered him and shouted “Oi!”. Loh panicked and took a tool from his bag and struck Tan on the head and neck several times. He also hit Tan all over his body.

After Tan became unresponsive, Loh left the temple by climbing over its rear gate.

The police found Tan’s body later that day covered in blood with blood stains on the floor, chairs and ladder near where he lay. There were also trails of blood leading to the back gate and blood stains on the gate.

An autopsy report revealed that the attack had inflicted 93 injuries on Tan, with the most serious injuries seen on the victim’s head and neck region. Tan had sustained fractures on his skull, jaw and nasal bone along with a  burst right eyeball.

The cause of his death was revealed to be crush injuries to the larynx.

Following the assault, Loh threw away his tools and left Singapore via the Woodlands Checkpoint on 19 February. He returned on 24 February and was arrested.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Tan Wen Hsien urged the court to impose a sentence of 12 years’ jail and six strokes of the cane for the culpable homicide charge, and two years’ jail for a separate charge of housebreaking over an earlier incident at a food stall.

DPP Tan said the offence took place in the confines of a temple, which was meant to be a religious sanctuary, and that the attack left a bloody mess. The discovery of the body would also have caused disquiet, she said.

DPP Tan pointed out that there was no suggestion that the victim was threatening in any way apart from shouting at Loh. She said Loh “chose to draw a weapon and continually assault the victim when he could have left at any time,” adding that his use of violence had been gratuitous.

In mitigation, Loh’s lawyer Sunil Sudheesan asked for a sentence of eight years’ jail for the culpable homicide offence and two years’ jail for the housebreaking. He added that Loh was under the influence of a psychiatric drug at the time of the attack and that his actions were not premeditated.

Sudheesan also highlighted a handwritten letter of mitigation submitted by Loh in which the latter said he could not hold on to a job due to an “injury to his brain”.

“The accused accepts responsibility for his actions, accepts that a long stint in prison is necessary but wishes to convey his sincere remorse,” said Sudheesan.

DPP Tan said in reply that according to medical reports, brain scans done on Loh revealed no abnormalities. DPP Tan also referred to the Institute of Mental Health report which said that although Loh was mildly intoxicated, his judgement was not significantly impaired by the drugs he had consumed.

Justice Chua Lee Ming accepted the defence counsel’s submission that the attack was not premeditated, but noted that Loh’s actions were “brutal and vicious”.

“I cannot ignore the fact that 93 injuries were caused to the victim and the majority of the injuries were to the head,” said Justice Chua, who backdated Loh’s jail term to 26 February 2016, which is when he was first remanded.

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