‘Emotionally devastating’: Lawyers on the mental toll of defending those facing the death penalty

In Singapore, the death penalty can be imposed for offences including murder, drug trafficking, use of firearms and kidnapping. Eugene Thuraisingam has regularly taken on capital cases since 2012. With the firm now having grown in size, it regularly handles several murder and drug trafficking matters at any one time.

It is difficult to imagine a greater responsibility than one involving life and death.

When you take on these cases, you meet with a client so often, you form a bond. You go through a full trial with them, seeing them every day, talking to them. You know their idiosyncrasies, they joke with you. And you form a relationship with them, and even with their families.

Eugene Thuraisingam

Fellow lawyer Too Xing Ji described this as an “invisible undetectable” emotional toll.

Amongst the ups and downs, none might be greater than the nine-year roller coaster that the young Nigerian man Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi had to go through. He was first acquitted of drug trafficking by the High Court in 2014, then convicted in 2015 by the Court of Appeal. New evidence was then presented that Mr Ilechukwu was suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms when he lied in his investigation statements in 2011, which resulted in the Court of Appeal sending the case back to the High Court to take evidence on a limited point, before finally handing down an acquittal in a split decision in 2020.

Another significant memory for Eugene was the case of Roszaidi bin Osman, who was initially sentenced to death by the High Court. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in a 3-2 split decision by the Court of Appeal on the basis that his major depressive disorder and substance use disorder had substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts. Roszaidi continues to send us electronic notes from prison during festive occasions to thank us for the effort we put into his case.

Veteran criminal defence lawyer Ramesh Tiwary said he decompresses by talking to other lawyers or family and friends.

The full article by The Straits Times can be accessed in the link below.