America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Singapore: Ex-policeman appeals to escape death penalty for Kovan double murders

Iskandar Rahmat
Iskandar Rahmat
3 years after he murdered 2 men, former police officer Iskandar Rahmat is fighting to save his own life.

The Court of Appeal reserved judgment on Wednesday (Oct 26) on Iskandar's appeal against 2 death sentences handed down to him for the murder of Mr Tan Boon Sin, 67, and his son Chee Heong, 42, on Jul 10, 2013.

Iskandar's lawyer, Wendell Wong, argued the murder convictions should be overturned and replaced with reduced charges, sparing Iskandar the noose. He urged the apex court to consider new evidence in the form of 2 reports - a forensic pathology report and a psychiatric report.

The forensic pathology report states that Iskandar suffered defensive injuries, lending weight to the defence's case that Mr Tan Boon Sin was the aggressor, and that Iskandar had wrested the knife from his hand and killed him in self-defence.

The latter report said Iskandar was diagnosed with 2 mental illnesses at the time of the murders. This "abnormality of mind ... substantially impaired his mental responsibility" for the killings, psychiatrist Dr John Bosco Lee stated.


Iskandar, 37, was found guilty of two counts of murder and sentenced to death on Dec 4 last year. High Court Justice Tay Yong Kwang found "no doubt" that the policeman, facing bankruptcy and dismissal from the force, intended to kill the elderly man for his money.

When Mr Tan's son, Chee Heong, appeared "at the most inopportune moment" at his father's house, "he quickly became collateral damage", Justice Tay said.

Father and son died from multiple stab wounds - 21 and 17 respectively - on areas like the scalp, face, neck and chest. The elder Tan died in Iskandar's arms, while the younger Tan staggered out of the house and collapsed behind a car in the driveway.

His body got caught under Iskandar's getaway car and was dragged for nearly 1km before it dislodged in front of Kovan MRT station. It also left a trail of blood leading back to 14J Hillside Drive, where the other body was discovered.

During his 10-day trial, Iskandar insisted he stabbed the men in self-defence, when the elder Tan came at him with a knife after he realised Iskandar had tricked him into removing S$600,000 in cash from a safe deposit box.

Iskandar maintains all he intended to do was to rob the man, not kill him.

The younger Tan barged in to find Iskandar covered in his father's blood and wielding a knife, and came at him with fists clenched, Iskandar had testified.

Prosecutors said Iskandar intended to kill Mr Tan for the money and decided to finish his son off too, to "silence completely the 2 persons who had seen him".


On Wednesday, they attempted to block Mr Wong from presenting new evidence, pointing out that the reports were prepared more than 3 years after the killings and more than 8 months after the trial.

In response to Mr Wong's submission that Iskandar was suffering from Acute Stress Reaction and Adjustment Disorder around the time of the murders, Deputy Public Prosecutor Lee Lit Cheng pointed out Iskandar himself had denied this at trial.

Iskandar cannot be allowed to now rely on "unreliable, self-serving" reports based on interviews 3 years after the fact, the prosecutor argued.

Urging the apex court to uphold the death sentence, DPP Lee said Iskandar had "no choice" but to kill Mr Tan "or face certain reprehension", because of the great lengths to which he had gone to trick the elderly man into removing cash and valuables from a safe deposit box.


Iskandar called Mr Tan from a payphone on Jul 10, and introduced himself as an officer from the Police Intelligence Department. He told the elderly man the police had "intel" that his safe deposit box would be "hit". Mr Tan agreed to replace his valuables with a CCTV camera, under the impression that he was participating in a secret police operation.

The men met later that afternoon at a Shell petrol station in Paya Lebar, where Iskandar passed Mr Tan a dummy CCTV camera to put in his safe deposit box.

Mr Tan did as he was told and returned later with cash and valuables in tow. Iskandar offered to escort him home as he was carrying a lot of money, and Mr Tan agreed.

It was when the pair arrived at the Tan family home at Hillside Drive that things went horribly wrong.

"Your client is the only person alive who was there," Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said, pressing Iskandar's lawyer for an explanation as to why Mr Tan and his son ended up dead, when Iskandar claims he was the one attacked with a knife.

The CJ pointed out there appears to be no explanation for why Mr Tan allegedly attacked Iskandar suddenly, after following the policeman's instructions and even allowing him into his home.

"I have to tell you that that's something that causes me a great deal of difficulty," CJ Menon said, especially because "the only evidence (Iskandar has) put forward pivots on this point - that (Mr Tan) attacked him".

Mr Wong said there was no way the murder weapon could have come from Iskandar. The policeman was dressed in office wear and would not have been able to conceal a knife under his clothes, he argued.

To that, the prosecution reiterated that no knives were missing from the Tan family home and highlighted that Iskandar was "able to describe the knife in detail". He even drew a picture of it for investigators, despite the fact that its details would have been obscured by blood, DPP Lee said.

Iskandar's family was allowed to spend a few minutes with him after the 3-hour hearing. The Tan family was not present.

Source: channelnewsasia, October 26, 2016

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