Oriental Hotel murder

On 6 June 1994, two Japanese tourists were robbed and attacked by two men in their shared room in the Oriental Hotel in Singapore. One of them was brutally assaulted and died, while the other survived. The case, known as the Oriental Hotel murder, was classified as murder by the police. The perpetrators were eventually caught 2 years later and they were subsequently sentenced to serve lengthy jail terms with caning for their part in the robbery and assault of the two tourists, as well as for unrelated offences committed before their arrests.

Oriental Hotel murder
Date6 June 1994; 28 years ago (1994-06-06)
LocationOriental Hotel
Participants
  • Abdul Nasir bin Amer Hamsah, 25 years old
  • Abdul Rahman bin Arshad, 32 years old

MurderEdit

On 6 June 1994, two men - 25-year-old Abdul Nasir bin Amer Hamsah and 32-year-old Abdul Rahman bin Arshad (alias Azman) - barged into the room shared by two Japanese tourists - Isae Fujii (滕井 勇惠, Fujii Isae), 49 and Miyoko Takashita (泷下 美代子, Takishita Miyoko), 56. Earlier on that day itself, the two men, who were acquaintances, went to the Oriental Hotel for a job interview when they both spotted the Japanese tour group which both Fujii and Takishita were with. Seeing this, the two men, who were short of money, decided to rob the Japanese tourists, who were workers and cleaners going on a holiday trip sponsored by their company. The two men then followed the tour group who went to check in their own rooms and later targeted both Fujii and Takishita after they were the only ones left in the corridor.

Once the women opened their hotel room doors, both men emerged from behind and began to rob and assault the two women; Takishita was assaulted by Abdul Rahman and she pretended to faint to escape further injury. When Abdul Nasir attempted to escape after severely assaulting and robbing Fujii, he lost his balance and accidentally stepped onto Fujii's face as he held onto the wall to try to steady himself (which left behind a bloodstained palm print), causing a facial fracture which obstructed her breathing and caused her death. The men managed to get a Seiko watch worth 70,000 yen (then S$1,000), a camera, a Japanese passport and 65,000 yen in cash (then S$950). They later converted the Japanese yen and divided the loot between themselves.[1]

Police were contacted and the case was assigned to prominent detective Richard Lim Beng Gee. The police also managed to extract fingerprints from the bloodstained palm print left behind by Abdul Nasir on the wall, but they could not trace any matching fingerprints from their database (since at that time, only the convicted criminals' fingerprints were recorded in the database). The police also managed to get a description from Takishita that her two attackers were racially of either Malay or Tamil descent (both Abdul Nasir and Abdul Rahman were Malay). Takishita returned to Japan the next day with her tour group (she would return to Singapore two years later to testify against one of her attackers in the court).[2] Despite the appeals for witnesses and information with offers of rewards and a police sketch of the robbers being published on newspapers, the case went unsolved for the next 18 months.[3][4]

Arrests and trialsEdit

Arrests of Abdul Nasir and Abdul RahmanEdit

On 25 January 1996, Abdul Nasir was arrested for attempting to rob and murder a taxi driver, and while he was undergoing investigations for this particular case, Abdul Nasir's fingerprints were taken and found to match those found in Fujii and Takishita's room. Abdul Nasir later confessed that he was involved in the robbery, and named Abdul Rahman as his accomplice. Abdul Rahman was later found to be in prison serving a 20-month jail sentence for theft.[5] Both men - Abdul Nasir and Abdul Rahman - were charged with murder on 30 January and 31 January 1996 respectively. The crime of murder was considered a capital offence at that time under Singapore law, which warrants the mandatory death penalty.

Fate of Abdul RahmanEdit

However, when further investigations revealed that it was solely Abdul Nasir who assaulted and killed Fujii, Abdul Rahman's charge was promptly reduced to one of robbery with hurt, and he pleaded guilty. On 6 June 1996, exactly two years after the incident, Abdul Rahman was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment with 16 strokes of the cane by Judicial Commissioner (JC) Amarjeet Singh.[6] It can be confirmed that since June 2006, Abdul Rahman is out of prison after serving his sentence.

The reduction of Abdul Rahman's charge left Abdul Nasir the sole person to face trial for murder.

Abdul Nasir's trialEdit

The trial of Abdul Nasir started on 24 June 1996.[7] The trial received considerable media coverage on the Japanese news, as well as in the news of Singapore, as Japan was very upset about the incident.[8] At the murder trial, the prosecution, led by Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Francis Tseng, argued that Abdul Nasir had intentionally stamped onto the face of Fujii Isae to prevent her from being able to recognise him, and the bloodstained palm print on the wall was due to him balancing himself in order to stamp on the feet. They relied squarely on forensic evidence and Abdul Nasir's police statements (in which he said he stamped his feet) to prove its case, which was in contrast to Abdul Nasir's defence that he accidentally stepped onto Fujii's face. Abdul Nasir's lawyer Subhas Anandan extensively cross-examined the police interpreter who recorded the statements; the female police interpreter admitted on the stand that Abdul Nasir did not say the word "stamp", and instead he said the word "step", but she wrote stamp because Abdul Nasir demonstrated to his police interrogators a stamping action. According to Mr Subhas in his memoir The Best I Could, he wrote that the interpreter conceded that it was not her business to interpret the actions but to interpret what a person said.[8]

Abdul Nasir's final sentenceEdit

At the end of Abdul Nasir's murder trial on 4 July 1996, the presiding judge, Judicial Commissioner (JC) Choo Han Teck accepted Abdul Nasir's defence that he accidentally stepped onto Fujii's face while he rejected the prosecution's argument that Abdul Nasir intentionally stamped onto Fujii's face to kill her; he cited in his judgement that the physically big-sized Abdul Nasir's height of 1.8 m and weight of 76 kg, compared to Fujii Isae's height of 1.5 m and weight of 51 kg, made it possible for an accidental step being the causation of the injuries on the victim's face. JC Choo also said that the prosecution's case was also not strong enough to prove the charge of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. For this, Abdul Nasir was acquitted of murder, and he was instead convicted of the other charge of robbery with hurt. Consequently, Abdul Nasir was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment and 18 strokes of the cane.[9][10] According to Abdul Nasir's lawyer, Abdul Nasir's family, including his two sisters were grateful to him for helping Abdul Nasir escape the murder charge, and Abdul Nasir was also relieved that he would not be hanged after all.[8]

Later, the prosecution appealed against Abdul Nasir's acquittal, in which the appeal was heard before three judges of Appeal: Justice M. Karthigesu, Justice Goh Joon Seng and Justice Thean Lip Ping (also known as L P Thean).[11][12] However, by a split decision of 2–1, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal based on the majority decision in October 1996, with two judges - Justice Karthigesu and Justice Goh - upholding the decision of the High Court while Justice Thean dissented. This marked the first time a split decision was made in an appeal regarding a murder case in the Court of Appeal.[13][14]

AftermathEdit

Abdul Nasir's kidnapping trial and landmark appealEdit

The conclusion of the murder trial did not mark an end to Abdul Nasir's ordeal, as he had to go back to court to face a kidnapping charge, which he committed during the time of his remand. On 3 February 1996, Abdul Nasir, together with his cellmate and drug trafficker Low Theng Gee (who was later executed for drug trafficking) briefly kidnapped two police officers for a ransom of a car, two guns, money and eight bullets before being subdued by the police reinforcements.

Under Singapore law, kidnapping for ransom carries a sentence of either life imprisonment or death (the offender is also liable to caning if he was not sentenced to death); the possible guilty verdict of death for this particular crime made Abdul Nasir once again facing the gallows. Once again, Abdul Nasir engaged his original lawyer Subhas Anandan in his defence. Abdul Nasir stood trial alone, as by the time he was convicted in the Oriental Hotel case, Low Theng Gee was already sentenced and incarcerated on death row for his drug trafficking offence, meaning he will not face trial for another capital case.

In his memoir, Subhas admitted that he confronted Abdul Nasir over why did he go kidnap the two police officers. Abdul Nasir claimed that he did so out of fear and worry that he would hang given his confusion and shock over the sudden change from a robbery investigation to an accusation of Fujii's murder two years prior, and also out of dissatisfaction that unlike the other alleged criminals in remand, he was not allowed by the police officers to eat his chocolates and milk (which were Abdul Nasir's favourite snacks), which were found on Abdul Nasir at the time of his arrest. He felt unfair that the others would get to eat what their families gave them during the prison visits while he himself cannot get to snack on the milk and chocolates (confiscated by the police). Subhas speculated that Abdul Nasir would not have done so if only the officers allowed him to enjoy his snacks. Subhas also revealed that there were initially two more prisoners, who were being remanded for illegal possession of firearms, joining in to help Abdul Nasir and his accomplice to kidnap the police officers but they later backed out at the last moment. One of them coincidentally later became Subhas's client and thus served a life sentence for his crime.[8]

Abdul Nasir was found guilty of kidnapping on 3 March 1997. On the same day of Abdul Nasir's conviction itself, despite the urgings of the prosecution to sentence Abdul Nasir to death, High Court judge T. S. Sinnathuray sentenced Abdul Nasir to life imprisonment and 12 strokes of the cane, given the fact that it was Low Theng Gee who masterminded the kidnapping plot and took upon himself to demand a ransom, and that Abdul Nasir did not harm the hostages or make any threats on their lives. However, Justice Sinnathuray ordered that the life sentence should run consecutively with the 18-year imprisonment sentence which Abdul Nasir received for robbing Fujii, making it a total of 38 years' imprisonment. At that time, life imprisonment in Singapore was defined as a jail term of 20 years, entitled with the usual practice of one-third remission for good behaviour.[15]

In his judgement (which was referred to by the Court of Appeal), Justice Sinnathuray stated that Abdul Nasir had committed two serious offences, one of which was what he got detained for in remand when he committed the other while trying to make his escape from his cell. He also stated that since the kidnapping charge is a separate and distinct offence from the first he done at Oriental Hotel with Abdul Rahman, he decided that Abdul Nasir will only begin to serve life imprisonment once he finished the sentence of 18 years for the Oriental Hotel murder case.[16]

Despite the advice of his lawyer Subhas Anandan to not appeal (because Subhas felt that the sentence was fair and there is no death penalty involved),[8] Abdul Nasir took upon himself to file an appeal for the two jail terms to run concurrently and argued the appeal on his own, but it was dismissed on 20 August 1997. However, in the course of the appeal, Chief Justice Yong Pung How, who led the three-judge panel (also included M Karthigesu and L P Thean) in the appellate court, also decided that life imprisonment should be considered as a term of incarceration for the remainder of a convicted prisoner's natural life, with the possibility of parole after serving at least 20 years, instead of a jail term of 20 years. He also ruled that this amendment will apply to future cases after 20 August 1997. Abdul Nasir was not affected by this amendment, hence his life term remained as a 20-year prison sentence, and he would still be spending 38 years behind bars.

Aside from the life imprisonment issue, the three-judge panel felt that other than the lack of significant mitigating factors in Abdul Nasir's case, they felt that Justice Sinnathuray (who would retire from the Bench a month later on 23 September 1997) had not committed any errors when he sentenced Abdul Nasir to consecutive sentences of 18 years and life, as given the separate and distinct nature of the kidnapping offence, should Abdul Nasir was sentenced to serve a concurrent life sentence, he would not suffer the consequences of the second conviction, and might feel justified to commit similar attempts in the future. They said that it should be a message of deterrence to prisoners that if they did what Abdul Nasir did, like trying to escape from police custody, there will be a heavy price to pay, especially when it comes to holding prison officers hostage. A concurrent sentence would likely encourage prisoners to do the same such that they would feel reassured to not get retribution for their attempts. Given that Abdul Nasir would only serve the maximum 20 years for his life sentence, there was nothing wrong to let him serve it once he finished the first term of 18 years; should the life sentence in Abdul Nasir's case meant natural, it would have been more appropriate for it to run concurrently rather than consecutively. As such, they dismissed the appeal.[17][18]

If he served with good behaviour, Abdul Nasir will possibly be released sometime between May 2021 to November 2021 after serving at least two-thirds of his overall sentence (25 years and 4 months), depending on when he started to serve his sentence. By then, Abdul Nasir would be at least 52 years old.

The appeal of Abdul Nasir, titled "Abdul Nasir bin Amer Hamsah v Public Prosecutor [1997] SGCA 38",[19] was since regarded as a landmark in Singapore's legal history as it changed the definition of life imprisonment from "life" to "natural life" under the law. This ruling also extensively made impacts on future cases after 20 August 1997 involving a convict sentenced to life imprisonment, including Muhamad Hasik bin Sahar for the manslaughter of a football player (31 May 2001), Tony Anak Imba for the robbery-murder of an Indian construction worker (30 May 2010), and Yong Vui Kong for drug trafficking (14 November 2013).

Re-enactments and publicationEdit

This case was re-enacted in a Singaporean crime show named True Files. It first aired as the eleventh and penultimate episode of the show's third season on 3 January 2005.[20]

In 1997, the annual season of Singaporean crime show Crimewatch featured the Oriental Hotel murder as its eighth episode.[21]

This case was also recorded in Subhas Anandan's memoir The Best I Could, which features his early life, career and his notable cases.[8] The memoir was adapted into a TV show of the same name, which runs for two seasons. Abdul Nasir's case was re-enacted and aired as the sixth and final episode of the show's first season (though some aspects of the case were altered for dramatic purposes).[22]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Oriental Hotel murder | Infopedia". eresources.nlb.gov.sg.
  2. ^ "Survivor flown in to identify attacker in court". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  3. ^ Lee, Min Kok (2016-01-19). "Former detective Richard Lim Beng Gee, 65, dies: 5 high-profile cases he helped crack / ASSAULT ON TWO JAPANESE TOURISTS IN 5-STAR HOTEL". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 2019-10-12. Retrieved 2019-10-14.
  4. ^ "Judicial CP - July 1996". Corpun. Retrieved 12 July 2020.
  5. ^ "Second suspect for Japanese tourist murder found in jail". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  6. ^ "Judicial CP - June 1996". Corpun. Retrieved 12 July 2020.
  7. ^ "Man to stand trial for hotel murder". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Anandan, Subhas (2015). The Best I Could. Marshall Cavendish Editions. ISBN 978-981-4677-81-3.
  9. ^ "Oriental hotel killing: Attacker acquitted of murder". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  10. ^ "Judicial CP - July 1996". Corpun. Retrieved 12 July 2020.
  11. ^ "Hotel murder acquittal: Appeal filed". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  12. ^ "Court reserves judgment on prosecution's appeal". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  13. ^ "Prosecution loses appeal against man's acquittal for murder". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  14. ^ "Fractures too serious to be accidental: Dissenting judge". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  15. ^ "Man escapes gallows twice in a row". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  16. ^ "Abdul Nasir bin Amer Hamsah v Public Prosecutor". Webcite. Archived from the original on 2012-04-26. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  17. ^ "Trie issue: CJ: What is life imprisonment?". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  18. ^ "Not so lucky third time round". National Library Board. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  19. ^ "Abdul Nasir bin Amer Hamsah v Public Prosecutor". Webcite. Archived from the original on 2012-04-26. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  20. ^ "True Files S3 EP 10 - Fatal Step". meWATCH. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  21. ^ "Crimewatch 1997 Ep 8 - Matching the Print". meWATCH. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  22. ^ "The Best I Could S1 EP6 - Oriental Hotel Murder". meWATCH. Retrieved 12 July 2020.

Further readingEdit