SINGAPORE: The brother of a woman who tortured her intellectually disabled tenant to death offered an apology to the deceased’s family on Friday (Dec 1), while also appealing to the public to stop the backlash directed at the families of the guilty.
Earlier in the day, housewife Tan Hui Zhen, 33, and her husband, 38-year-old storeman Pua Hak Chuan, were sentenced to 16-and-a-half years and 14 years’ jail, respectively. Pua was also sentenced to 14 strokes of the cane.
Waitress Annie Ee Yu Lian, 26, died at their hands after eight months of abuse from 2014 to 2015, spanning what a judge called “extremely cruel and inhumane” acts of physical, psychological and financial nature.
Addressing media on behalf of Tan’s family after the sentencing, her eldest brother, who only wanted to be known as Mr Tan, said: “We’re not in a position to comment whether the sentences are appropriate or not.
“It’s a fact that there was wrong being done, and there is justice sought. To what extent, whether it’s enough or not, is really subjective,” he said. “But we should respect the law and the court’s decision.”
“My sister and my brother-in-law really owe an apology to the deceased’s family. It’s not enough, but it’s the minimum to do, and I’d like to do it publicly here.”
The man, who is in his 30s, added: “While it may seem efforts have been made to give them lighter sentences, that’s not our intention. We were just trying to seek fair consideration of points on both sides.
“We are fully agreeable they should be punished. This is without dispute.”
And speaking through the couple’s lawyer Josephus Tan, Pua’s mother said she was “very sorry” for what happened and also apologised to Ms Ee’s family.
“My son has gotten what he deserves,” said the elderly woman, who did not want to be identified.
“A SINCERE PLEA TO THE PUBLIC”
Mrs Pua and Tan’s brother both also asked for the public’s understanding, after online furore over the case’s details led to nearly 20,000 (as of Friday 12pm) signing a petition for harsher sentences to be meted out.
Prior to the couple’s sentencing in the morning, lawyer Josephus Tan was overheard telling Pua, who was in the dock with his wife, that they were “now Singapore’s No 1 enemy”. Pua laughed in response.
But Tan’s brother said: “I’d like to make a sincere plea to the public to rest it as it is.
“After the passing of the sentences, those responsible will be punished. There shouldn’t be any more unfortunate acts to people related to them.
“I really hope the pressure from the public, the comments don’t get spread to members of the families on both sides.”
Mr Josephus Tan, whose firm Invictus Law Corporation has been handling the case pro bono for the past two years since the couple were first charged, revealed that Tan’s mother had called him on the morning of the sentencing, saying she was fearful of the public backlash.
“The families of both parties have been under tremendous pressure these last few days,” he said.
“We only wanted to ensure justice for the wronged. Let’s not forget the words of (late lawyer) Mr Subhas Anandan, who once said that no matter how heinous the crime, every offender deserves their day in court. And we just did that for the two accused.
“We are of the view that the sentences imposed are fair and just, and at this juncture leave it to the two to find closure within themselves,” he said.
“This is a very unfortunate tragedy. There are no winners in this case.”
“IT WASN’T A HAPPY CHILDHOOD”
The entire ordeal left Ms Ee with 12 fractured ribs, seven fractured vertebrae, a ruptured stomach and a litany of blisters and bruises, though she ultimately died due to acute fat embolism.
The condition spells out just how badly she had been battered - to the point of skin and fat separating from muscle, entering and clogging her bloodstream and resulting in cardiac and respiratory failure.
Tan, the main antagonist, appeared meek during her sentencing and spoke timidly to her lawyer, although she was overheard asking in Mandarin: “Why can’t we appeal?”
She was diagnosed to be suffering from moderate to severe depression and borderline personality disorder at the time of the offences.
Her lawyer also revealed she had been abused by her own family, and suffered three miscarriages along with a history of self-harm.
“It wasn’t a happy childhood the few of us had,” said her brother Mr Tan, the eldest of four siblings.
“But neither is it bad enough to justify whatever has been done. Whatever it is, it’s definitely in the past and no longer present.”
He added that he felt her mental illness was “under-reported”.
“I’m not a professional, but what I can comment is ... historically in our family background, we do observe signs of her being psychologically not that normal, though I’m in no position to judge to what extent,” he said.
“Most unfortunately, there wasn’t any initiative to seek professional help prior to the tragedy happening.
“What we can do thereafter, there is a long way we need to walk with them, it’s difficult to say how and it depends on their condition when they come out, but family and friends are committed - not because we condone what’s been done, but we’re doing our role,” he said.
“It’s our social responsibility as well to make sure they mend their ways.”
He said the focus should now be on “doing our best to make sure the lesson is learned”.
“Members of the public can comment freely, but I hope with the current societal stress everybody’s facing, we draw lessons from this and treat one another with respect and not just give way to your own anger and pressure.
“Probably people don’t feel I’m in a position to say this, but I hope this is a lesson for everyone and it can make the world a better place.”