President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) promised to address flaws in the justice system, push for legal amendments and upgrade treatment for mental health patients, in response to a petition by the widow of a dentist who was stabbed to death two years ago.
Tsou Feng-chu’s (鄒鳳珠) husband, a dentist surnamed Wang (王), was stabbed to death at his clinic in 2018. The suspect, Lai Ya-sheng (賴亞生), who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was found guilty in the first and second trials, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Throughout the trial, Tsou maintained that Lai, now 35, had feigned mental illness to avoid the death sentence.
Photo: Chang Jui-chen, Taipei Times
With the rising incidence of death by violence, Tsou said she feared that innocent people have become victims of hate crimes by people feigning illness.
Tsou on Thursday last week petitioned the president, presenting a bouquet of flowers with a postcard that read: “President Tsai: Please do not let Dr Wang and other victims die in vain. Our society is riddled with holes; we ask you to please swiftly patch up these holes.”
In May 2018, Lai barged into a clinic in Taichung where his sister worked, scuffled with Wang and stabbed him to death. He also stabbed two dental assistants who sustained serious injuries.
Speaking to reporters, Tsou condemned the justice system, saying it leans toward protecting the rights of offenders and that Taiwan has become a “heaven for killers,” who often claim to have a mental disorder to evade punishment, with some even being acquitted.
A psychiatric evaluation by Taichung Veterans General Hospital said that although Lai has schizophrenia, he comprehended and was in control of his actions during the incident, as evidenced by the way he managed to get past questioning by a security guard at the clinic and knew that he had to flee after the stabbings.
The report also pointed out that during an investigation, Lai gave clear responses to questions, without showing signs of a mental handicap or that he was deranged.
In the first ruling by a district court, Lai was convicted of murder and given a life term. Tsou appealed the sentence, saying Lai had feigned a mental disorder to escape the death sentence.
However, the Taiwan High Court’s Taichung brand in a second ruling on April 29 upheld the sentence, saying that as Lai has a history of schizophrenia, which constitutes grounds for a reduced sentence under Article 19 of the Criminal Code, it has refrained from imposing the death penalty.
Tsou said she received a reply on Tuesday from the president in the form of a handwritten letter, thanking her for the petition and her suggestions, and saying that the government is studying ways to bolster the nation’s handling of such issues.
“The areas we are looking at are largely in line with your suggestions. I hope you are able to overcome the pain of losing Dr Wang, and to work with us to better care for people with mental illnesses, improve our judicial procedures and laws in this area, and better protect the general public,” Tsai wrote.
“I really hope real change can be made this time, so that the sacrifice of victims’ lives and the endeavors of many can have a meaningful result that conforms to the public’s expectations,” Tsou said.
“I want to thank President Tsai for her compassion,” she added.
Tsou said she hoped the government would conduct a comprehensive review of the way it cares for people with schizophrenia, and consider such measures as indefinite detention for psychiatric patients who pose a threat to the community.
The government should also deny the possibility of parole and pardons in serious criminal cases, she said.
A life sentence would leave Lai eligible for parole after only 25 years, she said, called the ruling “unacceptable.”
Additional reporting by CNA
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