Youth first to have term cut

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 July, 1997, 12:00am

A teenage killer became the first murderer to have his life sentence reduced under a new law - but the historic judgment could see him serving additional time behind bars.

Cheng Yat-ming, 18, was sentenced last October 2 to a mandatory life term for strangling a classmate with a belt in a row over a $1,500 loan. He was 17 at the time.

But a law passed on June 30 gives judges the option of sentencing young offenders under 18 years old to shorter terms for murder.

Under the previous law, the Long-Term Prison Sentences Review Board would often allow these 'lifers' to be released after serving 10 to 15 years.

The Court of Appeal yesterday replaced Cheng's life term with a 28-year sentence.

He could have that cut by a third for good behaviour and can go before the sentencing review board after five years.

'But it is unlikely that a board will tamper with a sentence from three Court of Appeal judges,' a legal source said.

'This boy could end up in prison longer than if he had not been given a determinate sentence. What is bothersome is that they did not explain how they arrived at the sentence.' Mr Justice Simon Mayo told yesterday's hearing that although he and Mr Justice Noel Power and Mr Justice Thomas Gall were prepared to reduce Cheng's sentence, the new term 'must reflect the seriousness of the crime'.

They conceded that Lee Kei-oi's murder was 'in a large measure unpremeditated'.

'You did not take a weapon and it took place over a short period of time. You were 17 at the time and have no psychiatric disorder, so you do not constitute a danger to the public,' Mr Justice Mayo said.

Another teenager, Leung Chun-yiu, 18, restrained Lee during the killing and was given four years for manslaughter.