A 61-year-old Malaysian man of Indian origin, who evaded arrest in a murder case for three decades, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years' jail on Monday after pleading guilty of causing the death of a man with a hammer in 1986.
Arumugam Veerasamy was traced in 2006 through advanced fingerprint technology and arrested in September 2016 when he entered Singapore through Woodlands Checkpoint, a causeway link to southern Peninsular Malaysia.
Veerasamy, who was wanted for culpable homicide since 1986, managed to evade authorities for more than 30 years, as his name was misspelt on his work permit and in the police gazette issued against him, reported the Channel News Asia.
Veerasamy did not know he was wanted for culpable homicide, and went back and forth between the southern Malaysian city of Johor Bahru - where he lived - and Singapore, said his lawyer Siraj Shaik Aziz.
The court heard that the dispute arose when Veerasamy was doing odd jobs in Singapore in 1986.
He took odd jobs from the victim, 43-year-old Muthiah Kutha Lingam, a fellow Malaysian, also of Indian origin. He worked as a construction worker in Singapore.
The victim supplied labour for construction projects and had engaged Veerasamy to work odd jobs on several occasions, but paid him SGD 10 at the end of each workday instead of the agreed sum of SGD 45.
Muthiah owed Veerasamy about SGD 1,000 in unpaid salary, said Deputy Public Prosecutors Kelly Ho and Li Yihong.
On August 28, 1986, the two men went to a hut in Lorong Kabong where Muthiah stayed. While they were discussing Veerasamy's complaints about his unpaid salary, another worker joined them at the hut and the three men drank about four bottles of beer.
As they were starting on their fifth bottle, the topic of unpaid salaries came up and Muthiah became angry and slapped Veerasamy. Seeing this, the third man left the hut as he did not wish to be involved in the argument.
Veerasamy began fighting with the victim. Veerasamy noticed a hammer lying on the ground near some construction tools and picked it up. When the two men were on their feet, Veerasamy swung the hammer at the victim and hit his head thrice.
Muthiah fell to the ground and Veerasamy swung the hammer down on his chest two times, the court was told.
Veerasamy then threw the hammer aside and left the hut, noticing that his employer was lying on the ground, groaning in pain.
The prosecution on Monday asked for at least nine years'' jail to be imposed, saying the victim had died "a slow and painful death" after a dispute over SGD 1,000.
Veerasamy had witnessed the mumbling and groaning of the victim, but "callously fled the scene instead of rendering assistance".
"It must be emphasised that even if the deceased was the one who resorted to violence first, there was no basis for the accused to escalate the violence as he did," said the prosecutors.
"Once the accused armed himself with the hammer, the fight was no longer an equal one."
The prosecution urged the court to give little weight to Veerasamy's plea of guilt, saying he had been "on the run for the past three decades before the technological advancements in the police''s investigative methods finally caught up with him".
"He cannot now belatedly claim to be genuinely remorseful for his crime," said the prosecutors.
Siraj Shaik said his client had returned to Singapore multiple times and was not aware he was wanted for culpable homicide.
He said the misspelling of his name in his work permit was not something that occurred to Veerasamy, as he was a Tamil-educated person and the phonetic difference "did not bother him".
"Upon arrest he was forthcoming in all his statements," said the lawyer, pointing out that his confessions formed the basis of the prosecution''s findings.
"He ran to Malaysia straightaway, so it's just his good fortune that he was not caught," said Justice Chan Seng Onn.
When asked by the judge what Veerasamy did during the years he was at large, Siraj said Veerasamy worked in Singapore.
The judge gave a sentence that was in between what the defence and prosecution had asked for.
"I think in my view, after considering all the circumstances of this case, including the fact of your cooperation with the police and your plea of guilt, taking into account the mitigation which your counsel has submitted on your behalf, I will sentence you to 8.5 years'' imprisonment," said Justice Chan.
"Because you are 61, you are lucky not to have any caning imposed on you. I hope you will reflect on what you have done, and after you serve prison you can then go back to your family," said Justice Chan.
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