- Kudos to the other guy for possibly putting himself in the noose to save his friend.
Help can come from an unexpected direction when you most need it. Like from a dead pet hamster.
In an unbelievable series of coincidences, a Singapore man who received a death sentence for drug trafficking has been taken off death row. And it’s all because he made a friend in prison who happened to have a tattoo of a hamster.
Raj Kumar Aiyachami was arrested in 2015 for purchasing four pounds of cannabis. At the trial, he insisted that he didn’t mean to buy weed but “Butterfly” — chemical-laced tobacco that imitates the effects of marijuana.
Unsurprisingly, the judge didn’t believe the story. In 2020, Aiyachami was sentenced to death as dictated by Singapore’s extremely strict drug laws.
But while in prison, he met another Mark Kalaivanan Tamilarasan. The two became cellmates and eventually friends.
By chance, the two figured out that they’d been at the same place on the same day to buy substances. But Tamilarasan remembered that he hadn’t received the large weed shipment he wanted but a package of Butterfly.
He remembered the day vividly as that was when his beloved hamster had passed away. To commemorate the small creature, he’d gotten a tattoo of it on his finger with the date of its death.
The two presented this new evidence to the courts. This time, the judge believed Aiyachami and overturned his death penalty.
He’ll Hang for This
The events began on Monday, September 21, 2015. That’s when Aiyachami met Ramadass Punnusamy at an industrial estate to purchase Butterfly.
However, the police had gotten on Punnusamy’s trail and they arrested the duo. In Aiyachami’s car, they discovered a four-pound package of cannabis.
Now charged with drug trafficking, the two men landed in the courtroom. There Aiyachami insisted he was innocent of dealing cannabis.
He argues that he never wanted to buy weed. He had ordered Butterfly, but apparently, Punnusamy had handed him the wrong package.
The judge wasn’t inclined to believe Aiyachami’s testimony. And you can’t really blame him — it sounds like an excuse a drug dealer would make.
So, the judge did his duty and the gavel came down. In 2020, Raj Aiyachami was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead.
Punnussamy, on the other hand, received a lighter sentence. The judge sentenced him to receive 15 lashes from a cane before going to prison for the rest of his life.
An Unlikely Meeting
While he was waiting for the final judgment Aiyachami sat in prison. In 2017, during the daily one-hour outings in the prison yard, he met Tamilarasan. A year later, they began to share a cell.
During one of their conversation, Aiyachami told Tamilarasan the story of how he ended up in jail. To his surprise, the other man said he’d been in the same place on the same day to buy weed.
Tamilarasan remembered the day very clearly because it was the day his hamster had died. According to a report by Vice, Tamilarasan had been “quite close” to his pet and had tattooed the phrase “RIP 21.9.15 PAT” on his left middle finger in honor of the hamster.
He also remembered that his drug deal on the day had gone wrong. Instead of a big bag of Mary Jane, he had received a package of Butterfly.
The two men had a common eureka moment. Tamilarasan had received Aiyachami’s Butterfly, why the latter had gotten the bag of weed instead.
This was the proof they needed to save Aiyachami’s life.
Too Unbelievable to Not Be True
The two friends contacted lawyers and tried to argue already in 2020 that Aiyachami was innocent. However, the prosecution wasn’t buying it.
Over the course of their friendship, the duo had “more than ample opportunity to collude and manufacture the story that [Tamilarasan] spun in court,” the prosecution argued.
However, Aiyachami and Tamilarasan insisted that this was the truth. Eventually, their efforts paid off.
On March 27, 2022, Singapore’s chief justice Sundaresh Menon overturned Aiyachami’s death sentence on appeal. According to him, the men’s story shouldn’t have been ignored during earlier trials.
He agreed that the story was too incredible to believe. And that was exactly why he believed it.
“[Tamilarasan] was effectively implicating himself in a very serious offense, which at the time he gave evidence, he had not been investigated for or charged with. He had much to lose and seemingly nothing to gain in doing this, if it was all false,” the chief justice argued.
At the same time, the judge also overturned Punnusmay’s life sentence. So, all’s well that ends well, right?
Not quite. Although Aiyachami is off death row, he’s still not free to go. The legal status of Butterfly is murky, and he could still be facing other charges.
Additionally, it’s now up in the air what will happen to Tamilarasan. After all, he did just confess that he’s guilty of a crime that could see him hanged.
Perhaps his voluntary confession will earn him some leniency. But if not, at least he’ll know he helped an innocent man avoid execution.