Death penalty not a deterrent, says ex-judge

PETALING JAYA: Retired Court of Appeal judge Mah Weng Kwai believes that the death penalty is not a deterrent and that there are other ways to prevent crimes from being committed.

Recalling an execution he witnessed 35 years ago when he was a rookie magistrate, Mah said that unless the execution was made known to the press or to the public, it would not have served as a deterrent.

Retired Court of Appeal judge Mah Weng Kwai.

“Was it (the execution) ever made known to the press or to the public? If it wasn’t, what good is it to say that it will serve as a deterrent when there is no information for the public to make an informed decision?” Mah asked the audience at a talk on whether the death penalty served as a deterrent.

The talk was organised by the St Ignatius Church and the Catholic Lawyers Society.

Mah also vividly recounted his experience witnessing the execution.

He said in 1973, as a magistrate, he not only had to visit prisons, but also witnessed executions.

He recalled the execution of two brothers, aged 19 and 21, who had been sentenced to death over the murder of a policeman. The two boys, Mah said, had attempted to rob a policeman of a revolver, after which a struggle ensued, the gun went off, and the policeman died.

Mah said to his horror, he, the imam and a doctor had to walk past the death row cells.

“The two boys were very quickly taken out of the cell, their hands cuffed behind them. Their heads were covered with a cloth.

“They stood on the trap door, with the rope around their heads, the next thing you know, the trap door opens, and then bang! It was the loudest bang I have ever heard. After that, there was silence. No one said a word.

“Can you imagine. One moment, the two guys are walking, alive, and the next thing you know, they are dropping,” he said.

Mah said he had also noticed a chart behind him, where the weight and height of those who would be executed were used to determine the length of the rope that would be needed.

Mah said within seconds of the trap door opening, the person will lose consciousness, but does not immediately die.

In reference to the two boys, Mah said their bodies were left hanging for 30 minutes before they were taken down and certified medically dead.

“After the execution, the prison governor invited us to go to the office for a cup of coffee. Can you imagine, after just witnessing two guys being killed, and to have the bodies remain hanging, and the prison governor invites us for coffee,” he said.

Mah further pointed to the double standards practised by the public. He said that in general, the public did not like seeing a public execution of a person, and they would call it uncivilised and inhuman.

However, if the person had, for instance, murdered someone, they believed that the murderer should be hanged, but in prison.

Mah said executions generally go by unnoticed unless there was a big clemency drive.

De facto law minister VK Liew had reportedly said that amendments to abolish the death penalty would be tabled at the current Parliament sitting.

Liew had also said that death row inmates would serve 30 years’ life imprisonment under the proposed abolition of the death penalty.