Hong Kong courts

Jury to decide if alleged Hong Kong murderer fit to stand trial after psychiatrist questions his mental state

Accused said to have suffered from severe delusions and claims he was possessed by ghosts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 January, 2018, 9:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 January, 2018, 10:04am

A jury must decide whether a man accused of murdering a 15-year-old girl is fit to stand trial, after hearing he believed he was possessed by ghosts to have sex with his victim and that he fought holy wars while time travelling with Jesus.

A psychiatrist on Friday expressed serious reservations after hearing the escalation of the defendant’s delusions.

Her expert opinion, which was supported by a second psychiatrist, has prompted a successful defence application halfway through the trial that resulted in the jury being given a new task to decide if Lau Cheung-fai, 37, is fit to stand trial, instead of whether he is guilty of murder.

“Is he [suffering from a] disability?” defence counsel Michael Arthur asked. “The defence says that given the severity of his mental state, he is.”

Mr Justice Kevin Zervos said the jury will now have to determine six elements when reaching a decision – from whether Lau can understand the charge against him and decide his plea, to whether he can exercise the right to challenge a juror and give instructions to lawyers, and follow the course of proceedings and give evidence if he wishes to.

“Should you find the defendant is fit to stand trial, a normal trial will follow, in which you will not be involved,” he explained to the jury.

But if the jury rules in favour of the defence, they will then be given a second task of deciding whether Lau had killed the girl, which the judge noted “does not seem to be in dispute”.

Lau has denied the murder of Kwok Wai-ming, who agreed to model for him, in his Mong Kok flat in December 2014. The court previously heard the unemployed man admit to police that the girl was stuffed into a suitcase and wheeled to the Harbour Hotel, where he twice had sex with her, before leaving her body at a public refuse collection point.

The trial took a pivotal turn last week when the defence received Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre’s case notes on Lau, which revealed a surge in number of consultations, from 35 meetings in the first 31 months to 20 meetings in the five months leading up to the trial, during which Lau was given a growing dosage of antipsychotic drugs.

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The notes also reveal Lau’s many delusions, claiming he was “possessed by ghosts at the hotel” to have sex with the girl and told to chop up the body, which he did not follow as he had “an angel in his body”.

Dr Sylvia Chen Chia-lu, a psychiatrist for the defence who was then asked to see Lau again on Wednesday, concluded that Lau suffered from bipolar disorder with psychotic features at the time of alleged offence and has been “very mentally unstable since October”.

She was told in that meeting of his many conversations with Jesus, during which he could hear “the low, steady male voice of Jesus” and “the voice of Satan trying to fake Jesus” as he became “Jesus’ chosen apprentice” to fight Holy Wars through time travel.

The psychiatrist expressed “serious reservations” over whether he was fit to stand trial, but agreed with prosecutors that he could tell the difference between murder and manslaughter, and exercise his legal rights to challenge jurors and instruct lawyers.

But she also recalled Lau’s attention went to “nine lights” in the courtroom when he was asked about his trial. “God told him if all nine lights were switched on, he would win the case. But the lights were never switched on and he didn’t know where the switches were,” Chen recounted while the lawyers looked up at the ceiling. “He was going haywire.”