HONG KONG – It was a grim tale that gripped Hong Kong: A well-liked professor, trapped in a marriage that had soured, murdered his wife and stuffed her body into a suitcase.
On Dec 3, the court will hear former Hong Kong University professor Cheung Kie Chung’s mitigation for preventing lawful burial before delivering the sentence of life imprisonment – the only penalty for murdering his wife Tina Chan in August 2018.
A seven-member High Court jury returned a guilty verdict on Nov 26 by a majority vote of 5-2, following an 11-day trial and after almost eight hours of deliberations.
Cheung, 56, had admitted to killing 53-year-old Madam Chan on Aug 17 two years ago at their residence at the university’s Wei Lun Hall, where he was warden.
He did not originally admit to murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges, which was rejected by the prosecution.
The former mechanical engineering associate professor had strangled his wife with a cable wire while they were in bed at night.
That was after they had reportedly argued, with the victim berating Cheung for not sticking up for her during a disagreement with their daughter.
After the deed, Cheung hid the body in a green suitcase and left it on the balcony.
But as the body would soon start smelling, he bought six wood planks and created a “coffin” wherein to hide the body. Afterwards, he moved it to his university office.
The court was told by a crying Cheung during trial that he did not want to throw his wife’s body out.
“I didn’t want to dump her body into the sea or at the trash collection point.
“I feel exhausted faking myself, trying to look like I was worried about my wife Tina missing and pretending to be searching for Tina with my kids and their aunt,” the accused had cried out.
Following the killing, Cheung submitted a missing persons report but the police’s suspicions were aroused after they found CCTV footage of him transporting a large wooden box from the dormitory to his office in the university’s Haking Wong Building. This was two days after he filed the report.
Officers raided his office and found the the bloody and foul-smelling suitcase in the box.
During the hearing, the jury was told by the couple’s two children – Nancy and Scot, 30 and 26, respectively – that the arguments between the pair were usually provoked by Madam Chan.
That said, Cheung testified that the couple had never physically attacked each other.
He also told the court that he was constantly insulted by his wife throughout their quarrels – some of which were in the presence of their children – and that he felt humiliated.
He said his wife would say things like “you are completely useless” and “we would be begging on the streets if we were to only rely on you”.
“She would scold me with foul languages very harshly. Even with my kids present, she would still do the same, I felt humiliated,” he said.
Arguments aside, money was also a thorn in their relationship.
Police found a credit note dated three months before the murder, stating that Cheung owed Madam Chan HK$6.7 million (S$1.15 million).
Cheung testified that his wife ordered it to be done, saying it was her request that half of his monthly salary of HK$100,000 belonged and should have been given to her each month. He was to pay her, in retrospect, a decade’s worth of her monthly claim via the cheque.
He said he complied, not wanting to get scolded again.
Defence lawyer Graham Harris has asked Justice Anthea Pang Po Kam for an adjournment for mitigation, where a letter signed by hundreds of people will be tendered in court.
The High Court judge said the jury should consider Cheung’s relationship with his wife, the character of Cheung and Madam Chan, the psychologist’s testimony and forensic evidence.
She noted that two psychiatrists testified that Cheung was suffering from depression and it was possible he might have lost self-control then.
Justice Pang added that the jury should not only consider if Cheung could have his penalty reduced because of his mental illness, but also whether his mental status would make him vulnerable to provocation.
This request was made in the light of the couple having a happy marriage for 30 years that started deteriorating only when their children went to secondary schools.
This is not the first high-profile murder involving a university professor at a Hong Kong university in recent years.
In 2015, a professor at Chinese University Hong Kong murdered his wife and daughter in a car by releasing carbon monoxide from a deflating yoga ball. He was sentenced to life in 2018.
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