When Yaacob Mohamed Yatim was assaulted by an acquaintance while having dinner at a Geylang coffeeshop, he did not immediately retaliate.
The 59-year-old cleaner finished his food before attempting to take a pair of scissors from an ayam penyet food stall at the same coffeeshop.
When the stall’s chef stopped him from doing so, Yaacob went to a nearby Sheng Siong Supermarket to buy a knife and returned to the SSBB Enterprise coffeeshop at 3D Guillemard Road, where he fatally stabbed 48-year-old Rashid Mohd Nenggal in back.
Yaacob was jailed for life at the High Court on Thursday (19 April) after he admitted to one count of murder on what was supposed to be the opening of his trial.
The murder, which took place on 3 May 2015, was not Yaacob’s first brush with the law. He had previously been charged for causing the death of a relative – his brother-in-law – in 1999.
Sometime before 3 May 2015, Yaacob helped Rashid find a job at his workplace. Rashid quit shortly after and his outstanding salary was handed to Yaacob, who was meant to hand it over to Rashid.
However, Yaacob lost the money and asked Rashid for time to repay him. Rashid rejected Yaacob’s explanation and became displeased with him.
Yaacob eventually returned the money to Rashid but the duo’s relationship had soured by that point.
On 3 May 2015, Yaacob was eating with another friend at SSBB Enterprise when Rashid, who also happened to visit the coffeeshop, approached their table. An argument broke out between Yaacob and Rashid during which the latter punched Yaacob’s face.
As a result, Yaacob fell to the floor. He later got up and shouted in Malay, “Wait for me to finish my food, then we can talk.”
A third party pulled Rashid away and the owner of the coffeeshop told Rashid not to escalate matters as it would affect his business. Rashid apologised and returned to his table.
As Yaacob continued with his meal, he told his friend that he would do something to Rashid, said the prosecution. Despite his friend’s advice to forget about the matter, Yaacob told his friend he was leaving for a short while and ask him to stay put.
Yaacob then went to the ayam penyet stall where he took a pair of red kitchen scissors. He place the scissors in his rear pocket but was spotted by a stall assistant who told him to return the scissors and not cause trouble. Yaacob ignored her and walked away but the stall’s chef managed to wrest the scissors from him.
Undeterred, Yaacob went to a nearby Sheng Siong Supermarket and bought a kitchen knife with a 13cm blade.
He then returned to the coffeeshop where he called his mother and sought her forgiveness. At around 9pm, Rashid approached Yaacob to reconcile their differences but the latter said there was nothing to talk about. Yaacob then took out the knife and stabbed Rashid in the back in one swift action, said the prosecution.
Rashid then fled, with Yaacob chasing after him. Rashid fell at the slip road in front of the coffeeshop and Yaacob kicked him once in the face before leaving.
Rashid was conveyed to Tan Tock Seng Hospital but was pronounced dead at 10.12pm. An autopsy certified that he died from the stab wound. Yaacob was arrested the next day.
During court proceedings, it was revealed Yaacob was previously charged on one count of murder after causing the death of his brother-in-law during a domestic dispute. However, the charge was withdrawn after Yaacob was found to be of unsound mind due to epilepsy.
Yaacob was instead detained at the Institute of Mental Health from 2000 to 2007. He continued with his medical treatment until 2011.
For the current case however, Yaacob was found to fit to plead guilty.
In mitigation, Yaacob’s lawyer Anand Nalachandran – who was assigned by the Legal Assistance for Capital Offences scheme – pointed out that his client was not the initial aggressor and that there was no premeditated plan to kill.
Yaacob, who lives with his 86-year-old mother, is a widower. His wife, from whom he was estranged, died in 2008 and his only daughter died from leukemia when she was seven years old.
“Our client was often sad, frustrated and lonely. He also had difficulty sleeping. Our client had tried to keep his spirits up by cycling as a hobby and drinking with acquaintances at coffeeshops,” said Nalachandran.
The lawyer said that despite not knowing Rashid well, his client had helped Rashid find a job out of goodwill as Rashid was unemployed after having been released from prison.
“Our client’s goodwill was repaid with malice when our client misplaced (Rashid’s) daily salary (about $45) and Rashid refused to accept our client’s explanation and offer for partial payment,” said the lawyer. “Instead, (Rashid) ‘hammered’ our client on the head with his hand… our client did not retaliate.”
After repaying Rashid, Yaacob took pains to avoid him, even going so far as to quit his job.
The encounter at the coffeeshop on 3 May 2015 was entirely by chance and Rashid had spat and stomped on Yaacob’s foot, added Nalachandran.
The defence counsel argued for life imprisonment given the absence of particularly aggravating factors.
The prosecution, represented by Deputy Public Prosecutors Sarah Ong and Mohamed Faizal, did not object to a life sentence.
In passing the sentence, Justice Chan Seng Oon agreed that the death sentence was not warranted.
The judge told Yaacob, “This is an unfortunate case in which (Rashid) started off by provoking you and of course, this should not have resulted in actions which are wholly disproportionate.” He also noted that Yaacob had saved the court’s time by admitting to the offences.
For murder, Yaacob could have been punished with death. He cannot be caned as he is above 50 years old.
More Singapore stories: