A High Court ruling on Tuesday in the Wang Hao (王昊) case caused consternation among the family of the two-year-old child, who died from brutal physical abuse, and on the Internet.
Wang’s mother, Pan Mei-fang (潘美芳), had taken him to live with Liu Chin-lung (劉金龍), a man with a long narcotics record, as the child’s father, Wang Chang-kuo (王昌國), was in prison on drug charges.
Wang Hao was lured to the residence of a friend of Liu’s, where he was kept from Oct. 11 to Nov. 1, 2011, during which time he was subjected to physical abuse during what the defendants, Liu and three friends, Chou Chien-hui (周建輝), Hsu Kuan-hsiung (許冠雄) and Cheng Sheng-feng (鄭盛峰) — who all had previous criminal records — claimed were measures to keep him quiet.
The list of abuse included the use of a hammer to break the bridge of Wang Hao’s nose as well as his limbs, using needle-nose pliers to rip off his nails, branding the soles of his feet with red-hot iron nails, as well as forcing him to imbibe, or forcibly injecting him with, amphetamines and heroin.
The initial ruling by the Taipei District Court, after Pan sued Liu and the other defendants, gave Liu the death sentence, Chou life imprisonment, Hsu 13 years in prison and Cheng 14 years in prison on murder charges, forceful coercion of a minor by forcefully injecting Wang with class A drugs and illegally selling drugs.
To justify the sentence the district court said it found it difficult to understand how the defendants used abusive measures — which it said bordered on or constituted torture — to keep a two-year-old child quiet.
However, the High Court said this week that although the actions of the four defendants were horrendous, Liu had instructed the others to send Wang to the hospital after discovering that Wang had overdosed on drugs and had apologized to Wang’s aunt in court.
Saying this showed that the suspects had not entirely lost their consciences, the court reduced Liu’s sentence to 30 years in jail, while Chou was given 20 years and Hsu nine. Cheng’s sentence remained unchanged at 14 years.
The ruling can be appealed.
Wang Hao’s family members, child rights organizations and some netizens found the ruling unacceptable, calling it a judicial farce.
Wang Hao’s aunt, Wang Wei-chun (王薇君), said the “judicial system in Taiwan is dead.”
Wang Wei-chun said that when she heard that Liu would no longer face the death penalty, she was so shocked she fell to the ground in court.
She later vowed that even if it took a decade or two, she would keep appealing the case until justice was served for her nephew.
Wang Wei-chun, who also served as chief executive of the Taiwan Children’s Rights Association, said Wang Hao had been tortured to death.
“Torture is even crueler than giving someone a clean death,” Wang Wei-chun said, adding that if the courts were willing to treat criminals of such caliber so lightly, there was reason to worry about the future of children’s rights in Taiwan.
A criminal apologizing at the last minute in a court hearing is not a sincere apology, it is only an attempt to escape the death penalty, Wang Wei-chun said.
White Rose Social Care Association chief executive Liang Yu-fang (梁毓芳) said the High Court’s basis for sentence reduction was erroneous and absurd.
The collegiate bench said Liu demonstrated a last wisp of morality in taking Wang Hao to hospital, but the defendants had simply abandoned Wang Hao at the hospital, and, more importantly, the toddler died before reaching the hospital, Liang said.
“It’s as if the court is saying that if a potential murderer were to dismember a victim then take the dismembered parts to the hospital, he or she would still have some humanity and morality in them,” Liang said.
Children Welfare League Foundation executive director Chen Li-ju (陳麗如) said she could not understand the grounds on which the second ruling was reached.
“It’s a bad example for any future ruling in similar cases and it’s incredibly unfair to children who die from abuse,” Chen said.
Many netizens were extremely critical of the ruling.
A netizen going by the handle “koyuri” said: “No wonder there are more and more cases of child abuse in Taiwan; these judges should all go to hell for making the decisions they have made,” adding that perhaps the judges’ views on the case would change if their children had also been subject to the same treatment Wang Hao had received.
Additional reporting by Hsieh Wen-hua and Wu Sheng-ju