PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal brought by a teenager convicted of murdering 23 people in a fire at Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah in 2017.
A three-member bench chaired by Justice Abu Bakar Jais also refused an appeal by the prosecution that a second accused person, who was acquitted at the close of the prosecution’s case, be ordered to enter his defence.
Justice Che Ruzima Ghazali, who read the broad grounds, said the trial judge had evaluated all the evidence at both the prosecution and defence stages and made a correct finding in law and facts.
“There is no reason for appellate interference. The findings of the trial judge on both teenagers are hereby maintained,” he said.
Also on the panel hearing the appeal was Justice See Mee Chun.
On Aug 17, 2020, Justice Azman Abdullah, who now sits in the Court of Appeal, ordered the appellant (identified in the proceedings as “PKK1”), now aged 22, to be detained at the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
He said that after hearing the testimony of all parties, the court found that PKK1 had intentionally committed mischief which had led to the deaths.
Earlier, on Jan 28, 2020, Azman had acquitted and discharged PKK1’s co-accused (identified as “PKK2”), now aged 22, for the same offence, holding that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against him.
The duo, both aged 16 at the date of the incident, and another unidentified individual, had been charged with the murder of 23 people at the tahfiz school hostel between 4.15am and 6.45am on Sept 14, 2017.
Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah was located in Kampung Datuk Keramat, Wangsa Maju, in Kuala Lumpur.
Affirming the trial judge’s ruling in respect of PKK1, Che Ruzima said the prosecution had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt based on strong circumstantial evidence.
“There was no direct evidence that he had set fire to the school although he was said to be near the crime scene,” the judge said.
However, Che Ruzima said the trial judge had carefully scrutinised CCTV footage from a snooker centre, a petrol kiosk, the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia premises, and the tahfiz school itself, and had gone to the crime scene in the course of the trial.
“There was strong circumstantial evidence that PKK1 climbed the school fence at the back. He was seen carrying a plastic bottle that was believed to be filled with petrol,” he said.
The judge said PKK1 had also led police to recover a lighter from his house.
According to Che Ruzima, although PKK1 had called four other witnesses to testify, all were interested parties in the case.
He said that the evidence by one witness, who was classified as an accomplice, was treated with caution.
“The trial judge had the discretion to accept or reject the evidence of the accomplice. We feel the judge was not wrong to dismiss that evidence,” Che Ruzima said.
He added that PKK1’s defence of alibi could not stand as the prosecution had established that he was at the crime scene at the time of the incident.
“In essence, the defence put by PKK1 was a bare denial,” Che Ruzima concluded.
On the prosecution’s case against PKK2, Che Ruzima said there was a material gap as there was no evidence to show that he had caused bodily injury to any of the deceased that resulted in their death.
He said two prosecution witnesses were unsure if PKK2 was with PKK1 at the scene of the crime and that the prosecution had relied on inferences to urge the trial judge to call him to enter his defence.
The prosecution had submitted that the fire must have been caused by more than one perpetrator as it was impossible for a 16-year-old boy to lift two gas cylinders, each weighing 28kg, simultaneously.
“When there are two or more inferences, the benefit of the doubt should be given to the accused person,” Che Ruzima said, adding that the trial judge was correct to order an acquittal without calling for PKK2’s defence.
Lawyer Haijan Omar represented PKK1 and PKK2 while deputy public prosecutor How May Ling appeared for the prosecution.
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