PUTRAJAYA: A Penang couple, convicted of starving their Cambodian maid to death two years ago, have escaped the gallows.
The Federal Court allowed the appeals of Soh Chew Tong and Chin Chui Ling against their conviction under Section 302 of the Penal Code for murder and the death sentence it carried.
The couple, who own a hardware business in Bukit Mertajam, have now been sentenced to 10 years in jail under a lesser charge, which is Section 304(b), for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
After hearing the court had spared her life, Chin began crying and hugging her family members before she was escorted back into custody.
Chief Justice Raus Sharif, who chaired the five-judge panel, ruled that the murder conviction by the Court of Appeal in December 2015, was not safe.
“The Section 302 conviction by the Court of Appeal and Section 304(a) conviction by the Penang High Court are now set aside.
“We found there was sufficient evidence to convict them under Section 304(b),” he said, in delivering the apex court’s unanimous decision.
The other Federal Court judges were Justices Hasan Lah, Zaharah Ibrahim, Jeffrey Tan and Alizatul Khair Osman Khairuddin.
Sections 304(a) and 304(b) are provisions for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
However, the sentence under Section 304(b) is lesser than Section 304(a), because the alleged act under Section 304(b) was done “with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death”.
The couple were charged in 2012 at the Bukit Mertajam Magistrate’s Court for murdering their Cambodian maid, Mey Sichan, at their home.
The maid was only 17kg at the time of her death.
At the end of the prosecution’s case in the Penang High Court, the couple were ordered to enter their defence on a lesser charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder under Section 304(a).
They were later found guilty and jailed 24 years.
In 2015, the Court of Appeal found Soh and Chin guilty of murdering Mey and sentenced them to death.
During submissions earlier today, the couple’s lawyer, Gopal Sri Ram, said the murder convictions were not safe as the element of intention was not proven during the trial.
“For charges under Sections 302 and 304(a), intention must be proven.
“But intention was not proven in their case,” he said, adding the High Court did not take into account important evidence by Chin’s mother that the maid was provided food.
However, deputy public prosecutor Awang Armadajaya Mahmud said that the couple’s intention was shown through their actions of not providing food to the maid.
“They entered an agreement with the maid agency and they are responsible to provide her food, accommodation and to take care of her welfare under the contract.
“Not giving food can result in death,” he said.
Awang added that the couple had also not taken the victim to see a doctor despite her being too weak to move.
“They also did not call any doctor to their house to look at her.”