A woman with a history of psychiatric problems has been sentenced to five years in jail for strangling her six-year-old grandson in what a Hong Kong judge described as “a most tragic case”.
Kan Kwai-fong, 54, was sentenced after earlier admitting to one count of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
Madam Justice Esther Toh Lye-ping said she had no doubt Kan loved her grandson and noted her dedication in caring for him. But the judge ruled Kan had “a degree of forethought” in the killing that took place in 2018 and her culpability remained high, despite her mental health struggles.
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“This is a most tragic case,” Toh said.
In my mind, I had the idea that he was mentally ill. So I took the strap and strangled him
Kan Kwai-fong, grandmother
Kan was initially charged with murder but offered to plead guilty to manslaughter, which the prosecution rejected. In the ensuing trial, which was held in June, the seven-member jury could not reach a majority decision, and so the prosecution accepted her earlier plea to the lesser charge.
The High Court heard the cleaner admitted to strangling Endless Cheng Ting-hin with a strap cut from her backpack in a room at the Beverley Hotel in the Capital Building on Lockhart Road in Wan Chai after a happy outing with her boyfriend, during which she bought toys for the boy but also the knife she used to cut the strap. Endless was found dead on March 18, 2018.
“In my mind, I had the idea that he was mentally ill,” Kan testified. “So I took the strap and strangled him.”
According to experts, Kan was suffering from an abnormality of the mind at the time caused by her major depressive disorder and personality disorder, substantially impairing her judgment.
At trial, it was revealed Kan first became known to psychiatric services when she was diagnosed with a brief psychotic disorder after she thought about killing the middle of her children in 1993.
She was prescribed antidepressants in 1997 and in the years that followed, struggled to cope with the demands of being a working mother raising her children alone after her husband left her for a mistress. Kan tried to commit suicide twice, with one attempt thwarted by her youngest daughter, who give birth to Endless in 2011.
But the jury also heard Kan was a diligent woman anxious to provide the best care for her grandson as she became the sole carer.
She juggled up to four jobs to make ends meet and took workshops arranged by a social worker to learn parenting skills. A day before the killing, she joined the boy’s school activities and found herself worrying about whether he was happy when she saw his drawing of a black universe.
“I wondered whether in his eyes the world was all black,” she said. “So I drew a moon and some stars. I added some colour to tell him the world was not all black.”
In the most recent assessment of her mental condition, a psychiatrist questioned whether Kan was indeed suffering a severe depressive episode at the time of killing. The expert concluded she had a tendency to adopt extreme ways to tackle stress and found her “exceptionally maladaptive” methods reflective of an atypical understanding of morality.
The middle daughter told the psychiatrist Kan had bitten her own arm while at the Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre, where she frequently talked about her desired outcome of the trial and not so much about the victim or her remorse.
The court heard Kan requested a transfer out of the facility once she learned about the verdict, reached in June, and experts agreed she no longer required inpatient treatment.
In mitigation, defence counsel Jim Sherry said it was highly unlikely Kan would reoffend and her youngest daughter had forgiven her.
But the judge was not impressed.
“Instead of saying she has forgiven her mother, she should feel responsible for what had happened because she knew her mother had problems before her child was born,” Toh said.
Toh also emphasised that Endless was not a child with special needs as Kan had claimed. The judge deemed he had been a lively, happy boy who was simply acting out in response to his grandmother’s exacting standards that he did not understand.
“It’s not an easy case,” the judge concluded.
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This article Hong Kong woman jailed five years for strangling grandson, six first appeared on South China Morning Post