An 18-year-old, whose identity remains protected due to committing the offense as a minor, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to the murder of a fellow student at River Valley High School in 2021. The court identified the victim as 13-year-old Ethan Hun Zhe Kai, found dead with multiple axe wounds in the school’s toilet.
The offender, then a 16-year-old Secondary 4 student, admitted to the random attack as part of a plan that he hoped would lead to his own death during a police intervention. Suffering from major depressive disorder and influenced by desensitizing online videos, the offender meticulously planned the attack.
Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, delivering the sentence, acknowledged the offender’s depression but emphasized his awareness of the legal and moral wrongness of his actions. She highlighted the remarkable forgiveness extended by Ethan’s parents to the offender in a letter exchange.
The defense, led by lawyer Mr. Sunil Sudheesan, announced plans to appeal the “crushing” sentence. The public gallery was packed, reflecting the community’s shock and grief. The victim’s parents, represented by lawyer Mervyn Cheong, shared their heartbreak but urged the community to remember Ethan fondly.
Originally charged with murder, the charge was reduced to culpable homicide not amounting to murder after assessments by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) confirmed the offender’s clinical depression. The case details revealed his history of depression, suicidal tendencies, and disturbing online activities.
The prosecution, describing the case as unprecedented, sought a sentence of 12 to 16 years, emphasizing community outrage. The defense focused on the offender’s rehabilitation prospects, citing his family’s support and his own efforts to understand his mental health condition.
In delivering the judgment, Justice Hoo underscored that depression could not be an excuse for murder, noting the offender’s calculated planning. She spoke of potential redemption for the offender, dependent on his actions post-release.
The incident had a profound impact on the school community, leading to enhanced mental health support measures. The education minister addressed the incident’s effect in parliament, highlighting the psychological support provided to students and staff.