Michael P. Fay
Michael Peter Fay (born May 30, 1975), better known simply as Michael Fay, is a United States citizen who was the subject of international attention in 1994 when he was sentenced to six strokes of the cane in Singapore for theft and vandalism at age 18. Fay pleaded guilty; however, he later maintained that he was advised that such a plea would preclude caning and that his confession was false, that he never vandalized any cars, and that the only crime he committed was stealing signs. Although caning is a routine court sentence in Singapore, its use caused controversy in the United States, and Fay's case was believed to be the first caning involving an American citizen. The number of cane strokes in Fay's sentence was ultimately reduced from six to four after United States officials requested leniency.
Fay was born in St. Louis, Missouri. His mother, Randy, divorced his father, George, when he was eight. As a child, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder which, his lawyer later claimed, did not contribute to Fay committing vandalism in Singapore.
Theft and vandalism in Singapore
In October 1993, The Straits Times, Singapore's main English-language newspaper, reported that car vandalism in Singapore was on the rise. Cars parked at apartment blocks were being damaged with hot tar, paint remover, red spray paint, and hatchets. Taxi drivers complained that their tires were slashed. In the city center, cars were found with deep scratches and dents. One man complained that he had to refinish his car six times in six months.
The Singapore police eventually arrested 16-year-old Andy Shiu Chi Ho, a Chinese citizen from Hong Kong. He was not caught vandalizing cars, but was charged with driving his father's car without a license. After questioning Shiu, the police questioned several expatriate students from the Singapore American School, including Fay, and charged them with more than 50 counts of vandalism. Fay pleaded guilty to vandalizing the cars in addition to stealing road signs. He later maintained that he was advised that such a plea would preclude caning and that his confession was false, that he never vandalized any cars, and that the only crime he committed was stealing signs.
Under the 1966 Vandalism Act, originally passed to curb the spread of political graffiti and which specifically penalized vandalism of government property, Fay was sentenced on March 3, 1994 to four months in jail, a fine of 3,500 Singapore dollars (US$2,214 or £1,514 at the time), and six strokes of the cane. Shiu, who pleaded not guilty, was sentenced to eight months in prison and 12 strokes of the cane.
Fay's lawyers appealed, arguing that the Vandalism Act provided caning only for indelible forms of graffiti vandalism, and that the damaged cars had been cheaply restored to their original condition.
Describing the caning day, Fay told Reuters he did not know the time had come for punishment when he was taken from his cell. He said he was bent over a trestle so his buttocks stuck out, with his hands and feet buckled to the structure. He was naked except for a protective rubber pad fixed to his back. The flogger, a doctor, and prison officials were also present.
Fay told Reuters the caner walked sharply forward three steps to build power. "They go 'Count one' – you hear them yell it really loud – and a few seconds later they come, I guess I would call it charging at you with a rattan cane." He noted that a prison officer guided him through the ordeal saying: "OK Michael, three left; OK Michael, two left; OK one more, you're almost done." Fay reported that when the fourth stroke was delivered he was immediately unbuckled from the trestle and taken to a cell to recover. The caning, which Fay estimated took one minute, left a "few streaks of blood" running down his buttocks, and seven weeks later left three dark-brown scar patches on his right buttock and four lines each about half-an-inch wide on his left buttock. He said the wounds hurt for about five days after which they itched as they healed. "The first couple of days it was very hard to sit," Fay reported, but he said he was able to walk after the caning.
From the United States government
The official position of the United States government was that although it recognized Singapore's right to punish Fay within the due process of law, the punishment of caning was excessive for a teenager who committed a non-violent crime. The United States Embassy in Singapore pointed out that the graffiti damage to the cars was not permanent, but caning would leave Fay with physical scars.
Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, called Fay's punishment extreme and mistaken, and pressured the Singapore government to grant Fay clemency from caning. Two dozen United States senators signed a letter to the Singapore government also appealing for clemency. The Singapore government pointed out that Singaporeans who break the law faced the same punishments as Fay, and claimed that Singapore's laws had kept the city free of vandalism and violence of the kind seen in New York City.
Nevertheless, Ong Teng Cheong, the then head of state of Singapore, commuted Fay's caning from six to four strokes as a gesture of respect toward President Clinton. Shiu's sentence was later also reduced, from 12 strokes to six, after a similar clemency appeal. Fay was caned on May 5, 1994, at Queenstown Remand Centre.
Following Fay's sentence, the case received wide coverage by the American and international media. The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times ran editorials and op-eds condemning the punishment. USA Today reported that caning involved "bits of flesh fly[ing] with each stroke." The punishment had to be accomplished by trained warders holding high grades in martial arts. Public opinion in the USA was mixed. A survey of 23,000 people conducted by National Polling Network found that 53% "favor whipping and other harsh sentences as an acceptable deterrent to crime in the USA".
After his release from prison in June 1994, Fay returned to the United States to live with his biological father. He gave several television interviews, including one with his American lawyer on CNN with Larry King on June 29, 1994, in which he admitted taking road signs but denied vandalizing cars. He also claimed that he was ill-treated during questioning, but had shaken hands with the caning operative after his four strokes had been administered.
Several months after returning to the United States, Fay suffered burns to his hands and face after a butane incident. He was subsequently admitted to the Hazelden rehabilitation program for butane abuse. He claimed that sniffing butane "made him forget what happened in Singapore." In 1996, he was cited in Florida for a number of violations, including careless driving, reckless driving, not reporting a crash, and having an open bottle of alcohol in a car. Later, in 1998, still in Florida, Fay was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, charges to which he confessed but was acquitted because of technical errors in his arrest.
During an interview with CCTV in June 2004, Lee Kuan Yew, then Senior Minister of Singapore, said that Fay hit his father upon his return in the United States, which was suppressed by the American media. In June 2010, Fay's case was recalled in international news, after another foreigner in Singapore, Swiss IT consultant Oliver Fricker, was sentenced to five months in jail and three strokes of the cane for vandalizing a train.
In popular culture
Season 19, episode 18 of Saturday Night Live cold-opened with a sketch of Michael Fay's caning. Host Emilio Estevez as Fay, Kevin Nealon administering the caning, Rob Schneider as the warden, and Phil Hartman as the doctor.
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- Richardson, Michael (May 5, 1994). "Responding to Clinton's Plea, Singapore Cuts 6 Lashes to 4". The New York Times.
- Tan Ooi Boon (October 7, 1993). "9 foreign students held for vandalism". The Straits Times (Singapore). p. 1.
- Philip Shenon (March 16, 1994). "A Flogging Sentence Brings a Cry of Pain in U.S.". The New York Times.
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- Elena Chong, "Fay loses appeal" Archived September 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, The Straits Times, Singapore, April 1, 1994
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- William Branigin, "Singapore Reduces American's Sentence", The Washington Post, May 5, 1994.
- Singapore Frees Flogged U.S. Teen-Ager : Asia: Michael Fay is 'happy to be out' after early release. He leaves the country, heads for home., The Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1994
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- P.M. Raman, "Branding the Bad Hats for Life", The Straits Times, Singapore, September 13, 1974.
- Andrea Stone, "Whipping penalty judged too harsh – by some", USA Today, Washington, March 10, 1994.
- Mike Royko, "Readers get 'behind' flogging of vandal", Daily News, New York, March 30, 1994.
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- "Larry King Live", CNN, June 29, 1994.
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- "Drug Rehab For Teen Caned in Singapore," Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1994, p.14.
- "The Nation," USA Today, Washington, D.C., September 29, 1994, p.03A.
- "Teen Punished in Singapore Has Drug Habit – Michael Fay Was Sniffing Butane," Times-Picayune, New Orleans, September 29, 1994, p.A24.
- "Q&A," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 13, 2003, p.B2.
- Boy Caned in Singapore Makes News Again," Christian Science Monitor, Boston, April 9, 1998, p.18.
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- "Conversation with LKY (CCTV) Part 1/2 (June 2004)". Youtube. October 7, 2011. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
- "Graffiti man faces Singapore caning". BBC News. June 25, 2010.
- Venkat, Naveen (August 2, 2018). "Michael Fay Today". Must Share News. MS News. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
- "SNL Transcripts – Michael Fay Caning". snltranscripts.jt.org. April 16, 1994. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
- "Caning in Singapore Cold Open". NBC.com. NBCUniversal. May 25, 2015. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
Mr. Fay. I have some good news, and bad news.
- Yankovic, Alfred M. (November 14, 1994). "WONC 89.1 FM" (Interview). Interviewed by Chad Mitchell. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
- https://genius.com/Dr-dre-and-ice-cube-natural-born-killaz-lyrics Natural Born Killaz lyrics
- Mirkin, David (2005). The Simpsons season 6 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart vs. Australia" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Latif, Asad (1994). The Flogging of Singapore: The Michael Fay Affair. Singapore: Times Books International. ISBN 981-204-530-9
- Baratham, Gopal (1994). The Caning of Michael Fay. Singapore: KRP Publication. ISBN 981-00-5747-4
- Reyes, Alejandro (May 25, 1994). Rough Justice: A Caning in Singapore Stirs Up a Fierce Debate About Crime And Punishment, Asiaweek, Hong Kong.
- The Asiaweek Newsmap (April 27, 1994). Asiaweek.
- Chew, Valerie (August 5, 2009). "Michael Fay", Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board.