Tsai pledges reforms in letter to widow of Taichung murder victim

President Tsai Ing-wen's handwritten letter sent to the widow of a Taichung murder victim(CNA)

TAICHUNG (CNA) — President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has vowed to strengthen Taiwan’s psychiatric care services while offering her condolences to the widow of a Taichung dentist murdered by a man with a history of mental health issues.

Tsai made the pledge on Tuesday in a letter to the dentist’s widow, Tsou Feng-chu (鄒鳳珠), in response to Tsou’s appeal for help last week after the Taichung branch of the Taiwan High Court upheld a lower court’s decision to give Lai Ya-sheng (賴亞生) a life sentence for the murder.

Lai fatally stabbed Tsou’s husband, surnamed Wang (王), and injured two dental assistants as he tried to kill his estranged sister at the clinic where she worked on May 24, 2017.

In an April 29 decision, the Taichung court ruled that Lai’s history of schizophrenia constituted grounds for a reduced sentence under Article 19 of Taiwan’s Criminal Code and therefore declined to impose the death penalty.

Tsou, who noted that a life sentence would leave Lai eligible for parole after only 25 years, called the ruling “unacceptable.”

She asked prosecutors to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court and ask it to give Lai the death penalty.

On May 8, she protested the decision at the Presidential Office Building, where she delivered a bouquet of flowers and a card addressed to Tsai.

In the card, she urged the president to ensure that her husband’s death does not go in vain, and to work quickly to repair Taiwan’s “broken” society.

On Tuesday, Tsou said she received a handwritten response from Tsai, in which the president thanked her for her comments and told her the government is currently studying ways to strengthen Taiwan’s handling of a range of issues related to mental health.

“The areas we are looking at are largely in line with your suggestions. I hope you are able to overcome the pain of losing Dr. Wang, and to work with us to strengthen psychiatric services, improve our judiciary procedures and laws in this area, and better protect the general public,” Tsai wrote.

In response, Tsou said she hoped the government would conduct a comprehensive review of the way it cares for people suffering from schizophrenia, and consider such measures as indefinite detentions for psychiatric patients who pose a threat to the community.

The government should also deny the possibility of parole and pardons in serious criminal cases, she argued.