20 May 2019
Courtroom dramas can have unexpected twists and turns. Photo: HKEJ
Courtroom dramas can have unexpected twists and turns. Photo: HKEJ

[Hong Kong's Top Story 2016] Sweet and Sour

From the panel, the row of men and women stared at Harold. They watched, listened and watched some more. As usual, Harold was impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. When he was younger he had dreams of becoming famous, of getting his name on the evening news or in print in the papers. So he was always dressed for that moment. For years he had wondered if he would become famous for doing a good deed, making a discovery, saving someone from a fire or winning the largest Mark Six lottery ever. Now he knew. His name and photo were splashed on the daily news and the papers. It was more than he could have ever hoped for. From the perspective of his childhood dream, he had made it. But never in a million years would he have guessed it would be for murder.

Harold Yip’s trial had entered its third day. The courtroom in the High Court in Admiralty was packed with journalists, the elderly wanting to escape the heat and humidity, his friends and family. Against the advice of his counsel, Harold had waived his right to take the stand in his own defense. He was confident everything would be explained and the outcome would be in his favor.

Harold relaxed in his seat and stared with fascination. He loved watching courtroom dramas and now he was in a real courtroom, with real lawyers parading, gesticulating and using lawyer speech. He watched as family, friends and co-workers were called to the stand. Character witnesses, that’s what the lawyers called them.

Harold’s lawyer cleared his throat. “Mrs. Yip, did Harold ever exhibit violent behavior growing up?”

“Oh, no, never. He always helped people,” she replies.

“How long has Harold been ill?”

“Not very long. He’s a good boy,” Mrs. Yip said, smiling to the jury.

“Mrs. Yip, did you notice any changes in Harold when he was on medication?”

“Well, sometimes he was very quiet, like he was tired. Other times he would be full of energy and you couldn’t get him to sit. I never knew what mood he was in until I saw him.”

“Thank you.” Harold’s lawyer nodded at Mrs. Yip and returned to his seat.

“Mrs. Yip, people have good and bad days all the time. How can you be sure it is the effects of the medication?”, the prosecutor asked as he stood directly in front of her.

Harold watched as his mother grew pale. He hated what the prosecutor was doing.

“Well … I, I can’t. But Harold wouldn’t hurt anybody, especially not his wife. I didn’t raise him to be a …” She stopped, unable to say the words.

Harold’s eyes grew moist as a tear slid down her cheek.

“Tell the court what you saw at the scene of the crime,” the prosecutor asked Constable Lee.

“A woman was lying wounded on the kitchen floor. She had many lacerations,” Mr. Lee said, gesturing toward Harold with his hand. “Mr. Yip was standing over her, a large knife in his hand.”

“What happened next?”

“Mr. Yip was standing still. He kept repeating, ‘What happened, what happened?’”

“And then?”

“Well, he wouldn’t drop the knife so I pulled my gun. I shouted at him and he turned to face me. He then dropped the knife and covered his face. Then he started to cry.”

“Thank you, Constable.” The prosecutor returned to his seat.

“Was Mr. Yip in a state of shock?” Harold’s lawyer asked.

“He could have been, but I’m not a doctor.”

“Was Mr. Yip aware of his actions?”

“I don’t know. Again, I’m not a doctor,” Mr. Lee said.

“No further questions,” Harold’s lawyer said.

Harold frowned, unsure how he should feel. He had to trust his lawyer.

Stanley sat in the witness box in an outdated business suit. The folds of his neck just spilled over the collar. Harold caught his eye and gave a slight nod, happy to see that Stanley had made an effort from his usual T-shirt and sweatpants. They had met often while waiting for the elevators in the morning.

Stanley adjusted his tie. It looked like he was being slowly strangled.

“Mr. Wong, how long have you known Harold Yip?” the prosecutor started.

“About seven years, sir.”

“In that time, what has been your impression of Mr. Yip?”

Stanley looked over at Harold. “Well, um… he’s a neighbor, but we don’t socialize together.” Stanley directed his gaze towards the jury. “He works, has a wife. An ordinary guy, I guess.”

The prosecutor stopped in front of the jury. “Were there any signs that his marriage was in trouble or that he was violent?”

“He and the missus were quiet, they kept to themselves. I’m sure all couples have their disagreements.”

“How would you describe his mental health?” The prosecutor stood in front of Stanley.

“Okay. I mean he never looked at me with crazy eyes or anything.”

Harold heard chuckles come from the audience behind him and suppressed his own smile. Stanley knew how to entertain a crowd.

“Was Mr. Yip ever disruptive?”

Stanley’s head tilted a little as he looked up. His mouth hung slightly open.

“We’re waiting, Mr. Wong. Please answer the question,” the judge said.

Stanley looked towards the jury. “Not that I can recall, no.”

“Let me refresh your memory Mr. Wong.” As the prosecutor walked towards Stanley, Harold noticed a slight bounce in his step. “On the night of April eleventh, you called down to the building’s security to report a disturbance caused by Mr. Yip.”

Stanley sat frozen only moving his gaze towards Harold.

“Well, Mr. Wong?”

“Yes … It was to report loud noises. It was very late. I had to get up early for work the next day, but …”

“Can you be more specific? What were the noises?” the prosecutor interjected.

“It was shouting.” Stanley lowered his gaze.

“Can you speak up Mr. Wong? I don’t think people in the back can hear you.”

“Alright,” Stanley’s voice boomed. “It was yelling.”

“It was yelling,” the prosecutor repeated.

“I couldn’t understand what he was saying . You know how sound travels in …”

The prosecutor raised his hand to stop the reply. “Would you say that the person was angry, possibly violent?” the prosecutor continued.

“The noises were loud and exuberant. He … he may have been angry.”

“So, you have heard Mr. Yip angry.”

Stanley quickly wiped the droplet of sweat sliding down his forehead. “I didn’t know it was him. I just called security to report a disturbance, that’s all.”

“Did you know that he was ill? That he was on antidepressants?”

Stanley looked the prosecutor in the eyes. “No, I don’t ask neighbors what medications they are on and I certainly don’t rummage through their garbage looking for clues about their mental state. What they do is their own business.”

“Their own business, Mr. Wong? Even if it involves murder? A neighbor, your neighbor, Mr. Wong?”

Stanley stared back, speechless.

He’s good, very good, Harold thought as he watched the prosecutor return to his seat.

Harold swiveled in his chair looking for reassurance from his family and friends. His mother looked small and vulnerable. She gave him an encouraging smile. His sister stopped nibbling her thumb as their eyes met and she forced her face to relax. His co-workers sat together. They had worked together for years and Harold considered them friends. As Harold met their eyes, they quickly lowered their gaze. In that moment, Harold knew they were judging him. His jaw clenched as he felt the sting of betrayal.

As the next witness took the stand, Harold relaxed. Everything would be cleared up in the next few minutes.

“Please state your name and profession,” Harold’s lawyer asked.

“Dr. Steven Abbott. I head a team conducting drug trials. We test new drugs on people with depression.”

“So in your professional opinion, Mr. Harold Yip suffers from depression?” He flipped through his notes.

“Yes. If he wasn’t, he would not have been accepted into the program.”

“And for how long has Mr. Yip been a part of the trial?”

“It’s coming up to five and a half months now.”

“Is there evidence to suggest these pills can negatively affect or alter the mental state of people with depression?”

Harold looked at the jury to make sure everyone was paying close attention.

“That is a factor we take into consideration when we undertake a study like this. Judgment and behavior can be altered. Yes, it is possible.”

“During the study, did Mr. Yip elicit any changes in mental behavior?” The lawyer spoke to the jury for emphasis.

“The participant, Mr. Yip, had mentioned migraines, sensitivity to bright lights and feelings of anxiety. He eventually became irritable because of his inability to sleep.”

“Was there anything else?”

“Yes. He said a voice in his head told him his wife was leaving him for her lover.”

The lawyer paused to let the information sink in.

Yes, go on. Tell them about the voices. Harold covered his mouth to suppress a nervous smile. This is it. His heart raced as his excitement increased. They made me do it. It was the pills.

“Did Mr. Yip believe these voices?”

“Yes, to him they were real. He was anxious when he told me,” Dr. Abbott stated.

“Did Mr. Yip mention hearing voices before he started the trial?”


“Thank you, Dr. Abbott.” Harold’s lawyer turned to address the jury directly. “So, the act committed was not the action of a mentally stable person, but of someone whose reality was temporarily altered by an experimental drug. His actions were not his own.”

Harold patted his lawyer on the shoulder as he sat down. He felt his lawyer had relayed a very important point to the jury. His confidence increased. How could I be blamed if I was mentally unstable? I love my wife.

“The study is a double blind study, meaning that the volunteer Mr. Yip, and the doctor have no idea which patient is given which pill. Is that correct?” The prosecutor asked as he walked towards the jury.

“Yes. It was a double blind study but because of this unfortunate incident, Mr. Yip is no longer a part of the study.”

“Past studies have documented that drugs can persuade patients to cause harm, is that correct?”

“Yes, there are cases confirming this.”

Harold nodded and smiled. He loved that Dr. Abbott was so professional in his reply. Unlike Stanley, there was never a quiver in his voice or a hesitation.

“In your opinion Dr. Abbott, could the pills taken by Mr. Yip have altered his mental state, causing him to become violent?”

Here it comes. Say it. Harold leaned forward eager to hear the word.


What? Harold blinked a few times and his brow furrowed. Did he just say ‘No’?

“Please tell everyone why the drug could not have caused Mr. Harold Yip to commit such a crime.”

“For the past five and a half months, Mr. Yip was not ingesting any experimental drugs for depression. He was in the other group. He was only taking a placebo, a sugar pill.”

No, this is not happening. Harold’s eyes widened as he heard gasps throughout the courtroom. He sat frozen. No drug? Only sugar? He couldn’t blame the pills. That means… He slapped his hand to his mouth as the realization slowly sunk in.

“Order, everyone please calm down.” The judge pounded his gavel as the room erupted.

Harold felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see his lawyer. His ashen face told him what he didn’t need to hear. His defense had just dissolved like the sugar pill he had been building his case on.

As Harold was led away in handcuffs, he caught sight of his mother and sister in tears just before they were engulfed by journalists amid an explosion of flashing bulbs.

[Top Story 2016]

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First Prize winner (Adult Category) - Hong Kong's Top Story 2016

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