KUALA LUMPUR – A teenager who was charged with murder over the death of 23 people in a fire at Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah almost three years ago will know tomorrow whether he will walk out of court as a free man or guilty as charged.
High Court judge Datuk Azman Abdullah is scheduled to make the ruling at 2.30 pm.
The defence closed it case last June 19 after calling six witnesses.
On Jan 28, 2020, Justice Azman ordered the juvenile, who was 16 when the alleged offence was committed, to enter his defence on the charge after finding that the prosecution had succeeded in establishing a prima facie case against him, who is now 19.
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 offence, but the charge was later amended following the decision at the end of the prosecution’s 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 the 23 inmates at the tahfiz centre at Jalan Keramat Hujung, Kampung Datuk Keramat, Wangsa Maju here, between 4.15 am and 6.45 am on Sept 14, 2017.
He was charged with 23 counts of murder each, framed under Section 302 of the Penal Code, read together with Section 34 of the same law, which provides 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, as provided under Section 97 (2) of the same law, the court shall order the person to be detained at the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Section 94 of the same law also empowers the court to order the parents or guardians of the child offender to pay fine or compensation.
The prosecution was conducted by deputy public prosecutor Julia Ibrahim, while lawyer Haijan Omar represented the juvenile.
A total of 71 witnesses testified during the prosecution’s stage which started on May 30, 2018.
Among them was Putrajaya Fire and Rescue Department director (Fire Safety Division) Edwin Galan Teruki, who told the court that valves of two gas tanks that were found at the scene of the fire at the tahfiz centre had been punctured.
Another witness, a science officer at the Fire Investigation Laboratory, Kuala Lumpur Fire and Rescue Department, Yusnita Osman said traces of petrol were found on samples taken from the building where the fire broke out.
While the teenager in his defence denied that he was in the tahfiz’s compound at any time during the commission of the offence.
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 third defence witness said his six friends, including the accused, came to his house and then rode their motorcycles to a hut in Taman Balak, Datuk Keramat here to smoke cannabis between 1 and 2 am on Sept 14, 2017.
The heartbreaking tragedy killed 21 students and two teachers as they were trapped on the third floor of the religious residential school hostel.