Three friends spared the gallows over abduction of girl

Logeswaran Gopal and Nithia Kunjuraman (front) and Nanthini Jayabalan (back, partly hidden) being led out of the High Court in George Town, Penang, today.

GEORGE TOWN: Three friends were spared the gallows or possible life imprisonment today when they were offered an alternative charge of wrongful confinement over the abduction of a seven-year-old girl two years ago.

The trio had originally been charged with kidnapping, which is a capital offence.

They pleaded guilty to the lesser charge and were sentenced to three years and six months in jail from the time they were detained on May 16 last year. They have been held in remand for the past 14 months.

Clinic assistant Nanthini Jayabalan, 24, and her boyfriend Nithia Kunjuraman, 27, and Nithia’s friend, Logeswaran Gopal, 30, were earlier charged with wrongful confinement for ransom under Section 3 of the Kidnapping Act 1961.

They were charged with kidnapping the seven-year-old girl at Taman Jawi Indah in Nibong Tebal on May 15, 2018, at 8.40pm.

Under the Kidnapping Act, one can be sentenced to death, life imprisonment and whipping upon conviction.

On May 16 last year, the trio claimed trial to the charge at the Magistrate’s Court in Jawi. The case was transferred to the High Court as it carries a death penalty or life imprisonment upon conviction.

Following a representation by the trio’s lawyers, R Dev Chander and Rajit Singh Gill, the prosecution today offered the accused an alternative charge of wrongful confinement under Section 365 of the Penal Code, which carries a maximum seven years’ jail term upon conviction.

They pleaded guilty to the new charge before Judicial Commissioner Mohd Radzi Abdul Hamid.

According to court documents, Nanthini had taken the victim, who was her boss’ child, back to her house on May 15, 2018 as she sometimes did. When the father came to pick her up, Nanthini and the child were nowhere to be found.

Later, an unidentified man called the father through Nanthini’s phone and told him that his daughter had been kidnapped. The man demanded a RM100,000 ransom for her return.

However, about five hours later, Nanthini returned home with the girl after the parents lodged a police report. No ransom was paid.

During mitigation, lawyer Dev Chander said that by pleading guilty to an alternative charge, it had saved the court time and resources.

In response, DPP Haresh Prakash said while there were no physical injuries sustained, the mental trauma sustained by the child was permanent.

He also said one of the accused had demanded RM100,000 in ransom, which showed that there was a premeditated interest in monetary gain.

In his decision, Radzi said he took into account that all the accused were first-time offenders and the child was unhurt.

“The betrayal of the trust placed by the victim’s father on Nanthini to take care of his daughter, heavily weighs on the court’s decision today,” he said.

DPP JG Kaameni Jaya Raman also prosecuted.