TAIPING: The four remaining accused in the Hasleza Ishak murder trial were each sentenced by the High Court to 20 years’ jail, the maximum punishment for manslaughter and its abetment.
The four are carpenter Sabarudin Non, 34, fisherman J. Manimaran, 27, bomoh Rahim Ismail, 47, and palace aide Tengku Aristonsjah Tengku Mohamad Ansary, 41.
In passing sentence yesterday, Justice Mohd Noor Abdullah said he could not run from his responsibility to be firm in his decision to pronounce the maximum sentence on all four accused.
“I sentence each of you to 20 years’ jail from your respective dates of arrest,” said the judge in a 56-page ex-tempore judgment.
At this, murmurs rose from the packed public gallery, while the faces of the four in the dock remained impassive.
Justice Mohd Noor found Sabarudin and Manimaran guilty of committing culpable homicide not amounting to murder of the Raja di-Hilir Perak’s second wife Hasleza, 26, between 6pm and 11pm at the 63rd kilometre, Jalan Sumpitan, in the Larut Matang and Selama district here on Oct 6, last year.
He found Rahim and Tengku Aristonsjah guilty of abetting in the manslaughter, an offence under Section 304(a) of the Penal Code.
Up to yesterday, all four were on trial for murder and its abetment, which carries a mandatory death sentence upon conviction under Section 302 of the Code.
They were originally charged with padi farmer Mat Saad Isa, 50, who pleaded guilty on Jan 28 to a reduced charge of manslaughter, also under Section 304(a). He had since been jailed 14 years, and turned prosecution witness against the others.
Justice Mohd Noor described as “brutal” the act of Saad, Sabarudin and Manimaran in throwing Hasleza’s body from a high bridge, even if she was dead by then.
He said he could not sentence each accused differently based on the roles that they had played: “If I do so, justice would not be achieved because all of you had contributed to the killing no matter how small your role.”
He noted that of late, homicide cases were becoming rampant.
“Therefore an appropriate sentence should not be just to punish all of you but to hinder others from committing such crimes,” he said.
As soon as the court adjourned, Tengku Aristonsjah’s wife was seen wiping her tears and reaching out to hug him as he stood in the dock.
Rahim’s wife, who was at the public gallery, was also tearful while Sabarudin’s mother and brothers looked dejected.
Outside the courtroom, Manimaran’s mother wept uncontrollably and had to be comforted by relatives and the words of a passer-by who reminded her that 20 years in prison was better than the death penalty.
The decision had attracted the largest crowd throughout the 41 days of trial.
The overcrowding and the malfunctioning air-conditioners made the courtroom extremely stuffy, so much so that the judge commented about it. Towards the end, the staff had to drag in additional stand fans and open a door to ventilate the room.
In arriving at his decision to convict the men, Justice Mohd Noor said: “On the facts of this case, it may be that the four may be guilty of manslaughter though the evidence shows that they may equally be guilty of murder. In such event, I find they should be guilty of manslaughter.”
The judge described the prosecution’s case and the defence of Rahim and Tengku Aristonsjah as “two separate highways following completely different routes”. He said both roads, however, led to the same destination – Hasleza’s untimely death.
“I am saying this because the prosecution said the aim was murder while the defence said their intention was to kill off a spell allegedly sent by Hasleza,” he said.
He added that he had considered the two versions given by Saad and Rahim about the telephone conversations they had, and juxtaposed them with the itemised phone bills before concluding that he believed Saad.
“Rahim’s testimony was a pack of lies, concocted and tailored to suit his defence. His version did not raise a reasonable doubt,” he said.
He also noted that Raja Nor Mahani Raja Shahar Shah, the Raja di-Hilir’s first wife, had tried to help Rahim when she testified in court that she may have used the phrase “return the spell and kill it off” when she spoke to Rahim.
“I understand Raja Mahani’s sentiment in trying to help Rahim but it was the wrong way and the wrong place to do so,” said the judge.
The lawyers for all four men have indicated that they would be appealing.
Sabarudin and Manimaran were represented by counsel A.Thanasekharan and N.Ahilan, Rahim by Gurbachan Singh and Amrit Pal Singh, and Tengku Aristonsjah by Datuk Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and M. Kirubanandan.
The DPPs were Nordin Hassan, Shahidani Abdul Aziz, Chew Soo Ho and Masri Mohd Daud.