Ex-death row inmate grateful for second chance in life

FOR four-and-a-half years, a Malaysian man was in Changi prison on drug charges, including nine months on death row after he was convicted and the death sentence was passed on him.

Beh Chew Boo, 38, had maintained his innocence, saying he was not aware of the drugs in the Malaysia-registered motorcycle he was riding and which he had borrowed from a friend in Johor Baru.

But as the charge of importing 499.97g of methamphetamine carried the death sentence, he was provided a court-assigned lawyer – Wong Siew Hong, 59.

The latter not only got him acquitted last October but has also become his only friend in Singapore.

Beh now spends most of his time in his hotel room while waiting to return home to Penang, where his parents and teenage daughter live.

Speaking after he was freed from jail last Tuesday, Beh found it hard to say how he felt when the death sentence was passed on Jan 24 last year.He described it using the Buddhist concept of emptiness, which has multiple meanings.

“It did not feel real. It’s not something that can be expressed in words, ” he said.

Beh’s appeal was scheduled to be heard on Sept 8 last year. That morning, before the hearing, he had doubts about his lawyer after listening to other inmates.

Wong, who had represented him since 2017, recounted how Beh asked if he could change lawyers.

“I scolded him. I said, ‘I came so far for you.’ But it was literally from fear for his life, ” Wong said.

The Court of Appeal reserved judgment after the appeal hearing.

On Oct 13, the apex court acquitted him of the capital charge, but Beh spent another four-and-a-half months in prison.

The prosecution wanted to proceed on four charges for importing other drugs found in the motorbike.

These four charges had been withdrawn after Beh’s initial conviction. He was moved from death row to the section for those in remand.Finally, on Tuesday, Beh walked free after the apex court decided against these charges being revived.

Beh singled out Wong as his “living Buddha”, adding: “He has given me a lot of positivity.”

When asked what drove him to go beyond his duty as a lawyer, Wong cited what had been told to him by a senior practitioner when he was starting out as a lawyer.

“Clients who are facing criminal charges, particularly those facing capital charges... he has one person. You are his best friend, you are his only friend, ” he said.

“It doesn’t matter whether he did it or not. Do what you can within reason. It’s not for us to judge, the court will judge him.” — The Straits Times/ANN

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