Tuesday, July 27

Must there always be a motive to commit murder?


THE Crime and Investigation (CI) channel on Astro has been my favourite for TV documentaries for a long time. If there are no reality shows such as ‘American Idol’, ‘The X Factor’, ‘The Voice’ or ‘Dancing with the Stars’ on Star World or AXN, then CI becomes my entertainment channel of choice on a relaxed evening.

Perhaps it would not be right to call CI an entertainment channel because the heinous crimes committed, gruesome murders included, are true stories and one should surely not feel entertained at all by watching innocent people murdered, even if it’s only on television.

But it is entertainment in a sense, like watching a good movie in the cineplex and that the time spent in there was all worth it.

I believe many of us love murder stories, real or fiction. Decades ago, the ‘Murder She Wrote’ television series was something which I wouldn’t want to miss. Then, there was ‘Jack the Ripper’, perhaps the best-known name given to an unidentified serial killer. And who could forget Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fictional detective. They were all thrillers indeed.

In all of them, we would be engrossed in the thrilling narrative of murder and mystery and be stuck in a state of suspense as the stories twisted and turned to an almost always gruesome end.

This week, one of the most gruesome murders in Malaysia was replayed in a court judgement. The 2006 brutal killing of Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu returned to our hall of justice when Shah Alam High Court Judge Datuk Mohd Zaki Md Yasin delivered his long awaited judgement of his verdict in the murder trial.

What was strikingly unfamiliar in the judgement was the dismissal by the judge of the importance of motive in judging the murder case. It has even been described as a first in Malaysian legal history.

“Whatever the motive was, it is a matter of law that the motive, although relevant, has never been the essential to constitute murder,” said Mohd Zaki in his 70-page judgement.

Almost immediately, and not surprisingly, the judgement drew flak from many interested parties and their followers.

PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu in his reaction to the judgement said a murder would always have motive.

“The motive of the murder must be established. It is what draws and incites a person to commit murder. People don’t just kill for no reason,” said Mat Sabu.

The trial concluded in 2009 with the conviction of Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar, two security personnel whose faces had been carefully concealed by the police throughout the lengthy trial, up to the day they were sentenced to death.

This is a high profile murder case. Malaysians are only too familiar with the insinuations, allegations and accusations of the case. I find no necessity to go into details here.

But the contention by Mat Sabu that there must be a motive in every murder is an interesting one.

I suppose the PAS leader has valid reasons to zero in on the motive as a powerful political figure was also implicated in the murder case.

Many others have commented on the judgement online, agreeing with Mat Sabu and calling the judgement’s “motive is not essential” stand strange and baffling.

This comment best expressed the general sentiments of those who disagreed with the judge.

“An accessory is a person who assists in the commission of a crime, but who does not actually participate in the commission of the crime as a joint principal. The distinction between an accessory and a principal is a question of fact and degree:

“The principal is the one whose acts or omissions, accompanied by the relevant mens rea (Latin for guilty mind), are the most immediate cause of the actus reus (Latin for guilty act).

“If two or more people are directly responsible for the actus reus, they can be charged as joint principals.

“The test to distinguish a joint principal from an accessory is whether the defendant independently contributed to causing the actus reus rather than merely giving generalised and/or limited help and encouragement.” – Wikipedia.

“Both Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Omar are just accessories to murder, they don’t have the mens rea. The principal is still free.”

The pressing question before us is “Must there always be a motive to commit murder?”

In my honest opinion, no. There are such people as thrill killers and there have been murders committed by the insane.

Back to my favourite CI channel, there was this story of a Japanese guy who killed more than 10 people just because he needed the kick to see human suffering. He would torture his victims and see them slowly bleed to death.

At the trial where he was eventually sentenced to death, he boldly told the court that he was not insane but was unable to control his urge to kill and spill blood.

There have been many such cases.

In another high profile Malaysian murder, the abduction, rape and murder of 28-year-old Canny Ong in 2003 in Kuala Lumpur could also be considered as one without motive.

The convicted murderer, Ahmad Najib Aris, confessed that he was out to seek revenge and Canny Ong just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He said he had no intention to kill the woman at all and did not know why he committed murder on the night of June 14, 2003.

‘The Murder of Canny Ong’ was also shown on the CI channel recently.

In the documentary, criminologist and psychologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat insisted that Ahmad Najib was not psychotic as he could function normally in his environment and had a healthy relationship with his family and friends.

When asked what motivated the culprit to commit such a heinous crime, she said: “Basically, there were many theories behind his crime. The criminal wanted to have the personal satisfaction of committing a crime and destroying someone’s life. Rape was not the only motivation here.”

Now, can we include satisfaction as a motive for murder? Or even thrill? I’m not sure. You tell me.

In the Altantuya case, I would leave the judgement as an open-ended one.

Many will disagree with me but Justice Mohd Zaki could also be fair by dismissing the importance of motive in the case.

Then again, I could also be dead wrong. I know I have been watching too many CI documentaries.

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