Conviction in murder hearing quashed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 September, 2011, 12:00am


The Court of Appeal quashed a man's conviction for murdering a prostitute during a robbery three years ago because of an error by the trial judge.

Lam Pui-fung, 33, originally received a life sentence from the Court of First Instance in March 2009 after he was found guilty by a jury of murdering the victim, identified as Ms T, on March 16, 2008.

Mr Justice Michael Hartmann yesterday allowed an appeal on the grounds that trial judge Mrs Justice Verina Bokhary, in her direction, failed to assist a jury on how evidence from a pathologist supported Lam's defence that he did not intend to kill the victim and how the jury should approach that evidence.

The Court of Appeal described such direction as being 'of critical importance'.

'This regrettably the judge failed to do so,' Mr Justice Michael Hartmann wrote. 'In the result, there was a failure to put the defence case fairly and accurately before the jury for its consideration,' he wrote in quashing the conviction.

The court heard during the trial that Lam posed as a customer and visited the victim's single-room flat in Electric Road, North Point, intending to rob her.

They had a shower together and when the woman was drying herself, Lam locked his arm around her neck from behind until the victim lost consciousness. He then dragged her body to the toilet where he claimed the victim was still breathing and moving.

Lam claimed that the victim's head dropped and hit the toilet bowl. He then covered her body with towels to prevent her from making a sound.

He insisted that he had no intention of killing her. When he was arrested, he told police: 'I did not mean to kill her. I only wanted to rob and take some money. It was not until later when I watched the news that I knew she was dead.'

A paramedic found the victim's body with a towel wrapped around her head. Lam denied he did this. An autopsy found that the victim died of suffocation.

In the appeal court, Hartmann wrote, in reply to the prosecution's suggestion that evidence against Lam was so strong that it made a conviction for murder inevitable: 'Weak though the defence may be said to be, the applicant was nevertheless entitled to have properly left for the jury's consideration factors which he said went in support of that defence. This was not done.'

The appeal court ordered that Lam be remanded in custody, pending submissions from the prosecution and Lam's lawyers on the issue of whether a retrial should take place.

The appeal was heard by Hartmann, Mr Justice Frank Stock and Mr Justice Michael Lunn.