KUALA LUMPUR: A 19-year-old teenager broke down in tears when the High Court delivered a guilty verdict against him for the murder of 23 people in connection with a fire at the Darul Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz school three years ago.
The boy who was 16 at the time of the offence and cannot be named as he is underage, continued to cry silently as judge Datuk Azman Abdullah went into the details of his judgment.
The juvenile offender was then ordered to be detained at the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
The judge said since the teenager was a juvenile when the offence was committed, he had applied Section 97(1) of the Child Act 2001 to sentence him.
He said the terms and condition of the teenager’s detention was up to the pleasure of the ruler to determine from time to time.
In his brief judgment, Azman said after making maximum evaluation of the evidence, especially the testimonies of two witnesses, the court found that the fire was caused by petrol and gas cylinders.
He said testimonies had also shown that the main door nearest to the victims had been shut while another door had been walled up and turned into a supervisor’s room.
This, he said, had caused only one emergency exit left and trapping the victims inside.
“The defence was a mere denial. I find the offender had committed the murders with intent whereby the prosecution had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt.
“The court also found that the accused had committed arson,” the judge said.
In mitigation, lawyer Haijan Omar who represented the teenager said his client was currently taking classes in prison and would be sitting for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) on his own initiative.
“He told me that he apologises to everyone involved in the case and the trouble they had to go through throughout the trial,” he said.
The prosecution was conducted by deputy public prosecutor Julia Ibrahim.
Before proceedings adjourned, Azman said he prayed for the souls of the fire victims.
“May they enter paradise and so do their parents,” he said.
On Jan 28, Azman ordered the juvenile to enter his defence.
The court however acquitted and discharged another person, also of the same age, who was charged with him, without calling for his defence.
The two of them were initially jointly charged with the murder but the charge was amended at the end of the prosecution case.
According to the amended charge, the teenager, together with another individual who had not been identified, was charged with murdering and causing the death of 23 inmates at the tahfiz centre at Jalan Keramat Hujung, Kampung Datuk Keramat, Wangsa Maju here, between 4.15am and 6.45am on Sept 14, 2017.
He was charged with 23 counts of murder under Section 302 of the Penal Code, read together with Section 34 of the same law, which provides for the mandatory death sentence upon conviction.
However, Section 97(1) of the Child Act 2001 states that a death sentence shall not be pronounced or recorded against a person convicted of an offence if the child is under the age of 18, and in lieu of the death sentence the court shall order the person to be detained at the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
A total of 71 witnesses testified for the prosecution while six defence witnesses including the teenager were called to the stand in the trial which started on May 30, 2018.
The teenager in his defence denied that he was in the tahfiz’s compound at any time during the incident.
Another defence witness, a 19 year-old teenager, told the High Court that he was with the accused and other friends smoking cannabis (ganja) before the fire broke out.
The tragedy killed 21 students and two teachers as they were trapped on the third floor of the religious residential school hostel.