SCMP Monday, July 16, 2001


'Body-in-barrel' trio acquitted of murder

MAGDALEN CHOW

Three jobless men were yesterday acquitted of murdering a watch repairman whose body was stuffed into a barrel of cement and dumped under a bridge in Yuen Long.
The Court of First Instance jury, in a verdict reached after two days of deliberation, found Chan Man-fai, 23, Fong Yiu-leung, 18, and Chan Wai-yiu, 19, not guilty of murder.
All three denied the charge.
Chan Man-fai was convicted of the manslaughter of watch repairman Whitman Woo Ching-ho, 22, in a village house at Tai Kei Leng, Yuen Long, on December 11, 1999. He had admitted the charge.
The court heard yesterday that the jury acquitted Chan Man-fai of murder because they believed he had not intended to kill Woo or cause grievous bodily harm.
The three defendants admitted a charge of preventing lawful burial of a body. Sentencing was adjourned to today.
After hearing the verdict, the dead man's parents jumped to their feet and hurled abuse at the defendants from the public gallery. "There is no justice at all," Woo's sobbing mother, Chan Kam-ping, 50, shouted.
"How dare you murder my unarmed son. He died in a brutal and miserable way."
Woo's father, Woo Dai-man, 63, said the trio should have asked him to pay a ransom if they needed money, rather than resort to killing.
Mr Justice Peter Nguyen adjourned the hearing briefly to give the parents the chance to calm down.
Outside court, barrister Peter Lavac, for Chan Man-fai, said his client wanted to apologise to Woo's parents and felt remorseful for what had happened.
During the trial, prosecutor Michael Arthur alleged Chan Man-fai lured Woo to the village house by seeking his help in repairing a watch. The trio had allegedly bound Woo, taken his bank cards and forced him to reveal the PIN numbers.
The prosecution alleged Chan Wai-yiu withdrew $73,000 from Woo's accounts while the other two strangled him.
Woo's watch, wallet, identity card, waist bag and bloodstained clothes were allegedly burned.
The prosecution argued that the trio acted together to rob and kill Woo and each had different parts to play.
Mr Arthur had told the court Chan Wai-yiu was "just as guilty" as the others because he knew Woo was to be killed.
But Chan Man-fai testified that Woo visited the house to discuss a $40,200 debt he owed. Chan Man-fai said he had lost control and arm-locked Woo's neck after Woo struck him with a wooden block.
Fong had testified he was out buying food for the victim when the killing took place.
The defendants claimed they were coached by the police to make false confessions in written statements and video-taped interviews.
The court had heard Woo's body was placed head-first into a blue plastic barrel that was then filled with cement.
It was left under a bridge in Yuen Long and found 11 days later.
The defendants were arrested on December 22, 1999.
Mr Justice Nguyen thanked the jurors for their time and dedication and exempted them from jury service for five years.