SINGAPORE — A 46-year-old man who experienced a psychotic episode while assaulting his father was acquitted of murdering the older man on Tuesday (3 November), but was ordered by the High Court to be kept in safe custody indefinitely.
In delivering her judgment on Tan Kok Meng, Justice Valerie Thean noted her decision banked on two issues – the cause of elder Tan’s death in 2015 and if Kok Meng’s actions were the only rational explanation for his father’s death, in a case that relied mostly on circumstantial evidence.
“In light of Kok Meng’s psychiatric condition, the circumstances of Mr Tan’s death, the access those circumstances afforded only to Kok Meng, and the events from the time of discovery by (the elder Tan’s wife) up to the time death was pronounced, the inescapable legal conclusion is that there is no reasonable doubt that Kok Meng caused the injuries while having a psychotic episode,” ruled Justice Thean.
Left at home with father
Kok Meng, then unemployed, was said to have resided with his elderly father and his mother at the Bedok North flat, where the elder Tan was found lying in a supine position on 13 November 2015 by his wife, who is known as Toh in court documents.
The prosecution, represented by Deputy Public Prosecutors Daphne Lim and Yan Jia Kang, argued during the opening of the case that the younger Tan had caused the death of his father by inflicting multiple blows on his face and strangling him. The prosecution did not dispute that Kok Meng, a diagnosed schizophrenic, was of unsound mind at the time.
Toh left the flat at about 2.30pm that day after instructing her husband not to allow their son out of the flat. She had earlier noted that he was dazed for the past few days and had paced up and down the flat.
In her judgment, Justice Thean drew the conclusion that Kok Meng’s involvement was a “rational explanation” given the circumstances.
She noted that Toh was absent, both men were locked at home, and the gate remained locked when Toh returned, with no sign of forced entry.
Upon returning home before 5.17pm, Toh found her husband lying on the ground with a bloodied head, and medical evidence had indicated that the elder Tan was fatally injured by this time.
Kok Meng had suffered a relapse of his medical condition and experienced severe psychotic symptoms, said the judge, who added that Tan had been witnessed by his mother and paramedics assaulting his father in two intermittent acts.
“No one else could have been responsible for Mr Tan’s injuries which were not accidental,” said Justice Thean.
Kok Meng had also admitted attacking his father with his bare hands. He had a strained relationship with his father, who “nagged and scolded” him for taking money from his parents. Kok Meng had also said that he found his father “irritating and annoying”.
There was no other rational explanation for the elder Tan’s death, and no alternative account was suggested by witnesses who testified, said Justice Thean.
Death from strangulation and aspiration of blood
Toh had sought help from neighbours, who both saw the elder Tan lying on the floor gasping for air. Both observed the younger Tan in a daze with his limbs covered in dried blood.
Toh shouted at her son, asking why he had killed his father, but he did not respond. At this point her son allegedly placed his hands on his injured father’s chest and sat on his abdomen. Toh then pulled her son away. She called her other son, who later alerted police to the incident.
The elder Tan later died and his son was arrested by the police. The cause of death was certified to be from strangulation and aspiration of blood. He had extensive bruising and haemorrhage over his face chest and upper limbs as well as fractures to his neck. The victim also sustained a deep laceration to his tongue, which was consistent to him being punched in the face.
A paramedic, Zaneta Lee Yan Lin, who was at the scene, testified that before entering the unit she saw the younger Tan sitting on a sofa in a daze and staring into the distance.
While the paramedics were at the scene, Kok Meng placed his hands on his father’s throat and strangled him for about one to two minutes.
The judge acquitted Kok Meng of the offence of murder, but ordered that he be kept in safe custody for an unspecified period of time.
Said Justice Thean, “This is grief twice over for the family and I would emphasise that this order is made in the context that Kok Meng has been acquitted of the offence charged. The object the law seeks to fulfil by this order is the protection of society, and by the same means, the safety of the accused and his family.”
“It is hoped these reasons bring some measure of closure to what I am sure is a painful chapter for the family.”
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