Hong Kong body-in-cement murder trial halted and jury dismissed as judge falls ill
Trial, which was into its 27th day, will have to begin from scratch at later date with new jury
The murder trial of three Hong Kong housemates accused of burying their victim in cement was dramatically halted and the jury dismissed on Thursday morning after the judge fell ill.
It meant the trial, which was into its 27th day, would have to be rescheduled and start from scratch before a new jury.
The first hint at this turn of events came when Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam turned up at Courtroom 27 of the High Court instead of the presiding judge, Mr Justice Patrick Li Hon-leung, even before the seven jurors were called in.
Pang told the lawyers at the bench, as well as the defendants in the dock, that her colleague was suffering from a condition that required “immediate medical attention”.
“It means that he cannot return in a short period of time,” she said, adding that the court would have no choice but to discharge the jury.
When Pang entered the courtroom, the lawyers and defendants Keith Lau, 23, and Cheung Sin-hang, 26, appeared surprised. Defendant Tsang Cheung-yan, 28, who had been feeling unwell, was absent from the Thursday hearing.
Pang wanted to break the news to the jury but was delayed as one of the jurors had gone missing. She later called the jury back into the room and officially dismissed them.
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“As you may notice, Mr Justice Li is not in court today,” she told the jury, adding that Li would need to be away from work “for quite a period of time”.
She thanked the jurors for their service and ordered them not to speak to anyone about the case and refrain from posting about it on social media, as the trial would be rescheduled.
The case centres on the death of Cheung Man-li, 28, also known as “Ah J”, in the trio’s flat in Tsuen Wan on March 4, 2016.
Prosecutors said the money-motivated murder involved someone attacking Ah J with chloroform at Flat 9D of the DAN 6 industrial building that day, before Tsang injected the victim with alcohol. After Ah J died, the trio built a coffin with concrete, where they hid Ah J’s body.
According to court testimony, the defendants were to receive a large reward from an international crime group called “There” for Ah J’s murder, with the sum varying from HK$30 million to US$20 million.
Tsang however dismissed this as a joke.
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At one point, the defendants discussed robbing Ah J and even ventured to Kwun Tong Promenade to see if the site was suitable for the crime, the court heard.
The jury was also told that the trio had fled to Taiwan with a fourth housemate, Ho Ling-yu, a defendant turned prosecution witness, after the alleged murder, and were arrested only when they were sent back to Hong Kong by the local authorities.
The defendants have denied one count of murder but have admitted preventing the lawful burial of Cheung Man-li.