Sat, Jan 01, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Arsonist handed life sentence for fire that killed four

By Rich Chang  /  Staff Reporter

A university lecturer was yesterday sentenced to life in prison by the Taiwan High Court’s Kaohsiung branch in an arson case in which four people were killed.

However, the ruling — and the long case that preceded it — was not without controversy, as the accused, Chen Pei-yuan (陳培元), and his attorney maintained that he suffers from serious mental illness and was insane at the time of his crime.

Chen’s attorney has accused the judiciary of discriminating against the mentally ill.

In the ruling yesterday, the court said Chen’s act was deserving of the death penalty, but because he had diminished capacity at the time he was unable grasp the severity of his crime, and so the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.

The ruling also said that Chen set the fire only after the victims refused to lend him money.

The ruling can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In the early hours of June 5, 2007, a petrol bomb was thrown into Hua Xin Cleaners in Kaohsiung City’s Zuoying District (左營).

Chen, who lived next door, was arrested a week later and charged with murder.

According to the Criminal Code, a person found to be insane cannot be convicted of a crime. However, if a judge determines that a suspect had “diminished capacity” to understand his or her actions, the code allows — but does not mandate — a lighter sentence.

Chen has been receiving medical treatment since his arrest.

Prosecutors in charge of the case sought the death penalty, arguing that Chen should pay the ultimate price to take responsibility for the four people who died at his hand.

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