Child murder trial: Father pressed heated spoon on son's palm in escalating disciplinary actions

Child murder trial: Father pressed heated spoon on son's palm in escalating disciplinary actions

Murder trial cage and dispenser
Photos from court documents of the cage allegedly used to confine the boy, and the hot water dispenser purportedly used in the offences.

SINGAPORE: A man on trial along with his co-accused wife for murdering their five-year-old son had allegedly hit his spouse, kicked the family cat, and escalated violence against the victim in a pattern of what was meant to be "discipline".

Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman and his wife Azlin Arujunah, both 27, are contesting charges including murder with common intention, by scalding their five-year-old son to his death.

Taking the stand on Monday (Nov 18) to a packed court was the prosecution's psychiatrist, Dr Cheow Enquan, an associate consultant with the Department of General and Forensic Psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

READ: Scalded boy went into shock in surgery, had dirty, raw wounds, says burns specialist

Dr Cheow disagreed with a psychiatric report the defence is relying on, which found that Ridzuan was suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) and hypnotic use disorder at the time of the offences.

The boy was allegedly scalded with hot water on four occasions in the week leading up to his death in late October 2016.

His parents, who took him back into the home from foster parents when he was about four, are accused of abusing him in a variety of ways including striking him with a broom, pinching him with pliers and confining him in a cat cage.

Dr Cheow told the court that he disagreed with the ADHD diagnosis as well as the IED, saying the criteria did not seem to be fulfilled.

While Ridzuan did give examples of his aggressive behaviour, there was no evidence to show that it was out of proportion to any provocation or stressors, said Dr Cheow.

Dr Cheow said Ridzuan's account of the events shows that there was a clear escalation of disciplinary acts and not a sudden impulsive reaction as characterised by IED.

FATHER TRIED HITTING BOY FIRST, ESCALATED TO OTHER PUNISHMENTS

"In the accused's account of the alleged offences, he clearly described an escalating pattern of physical punishment in response to persistent bad behaviour," said Dr Cheow.

"He emphasised to me that it was not something out of proportion. Initially, he just tried hitting the deceased with his hands. But when the deceased's bad behaviour persisted, that angered him," said the psychiatrist.

​​​​​​​"So he decided to take things further. A hanger first, then pliers, then he came up with the idea of a heated spoon. He said the heated spoon was to punish his thieving hands, so he won't open tins of milo and milk powder meant for his siblings," said Dr Cheow. 

The court had previously heard that the boy, who had burns on 70 per cent of his body, had one hand entirely burnt.

"When this didn't work as well, he took more drastic actions, splashing boiling water on him, locking him in the cage meant for the cat," said Dr Cheow. "It's clearly a calculated, escalated pattern of violence, and not something out of proportion."

The boy collapsed on Oct 22, 2016 after his father allegedly splashed hot water over his back and calf, and was taken to hospital only hours later, where he died the next day.

READ: Father accused of scalding son to death has low intellect, was in boys' home

TROUBLED CHILDHOOD, BUT DID NOT BEAT OTHER KIDS AS MUCH

Ridzuan has certain traits consistent with someone with an anti-social personality, but not enough to amount to a formal diagnosis, said the psychiatrist.

"Such aggressive behaviour since childhood could be better explained with conduct issues," he said.

Evidence from his childhood include being sent to a boys' home for possessing pornography and abusing drugs at a young age, several instances of theft, misconduct in school, relations to gangs and fights with classmates.

Ridzuan told Dr Cheow that he had sniffed glue and taken methamphetamine before, but completely denied any recent use of drugs or alcohol.

He said Ridzuan was angered when the victim told his uncle that he was being beaten up for no reason.

"He felt that statement was not fair, he felt there was a reason, he was trying to discipline the deceased for his behaviour," said the psychiatrist.

The couple allegedly "had violent tempers", took drugs together and tended to quarrel frequently over many issues, the court heard.

Ridzuan said he hit his wife a few times a week out of frustration as she tried to stop him from going out, said Dr Cheow. The pair were both jobless, relying on financial aid and with Ridzuan selling some items on Carousell like love potions and old currencies.

He also kicked the family cat, because it urinated on the sofa.

"So it wasn't something done without a reason," said Dr Cheow, explaining how someone with IED would react angrily out of proportion even to minor provocation.

Ridzuan admitted using physical punishment to his other children, but not to the same extent, as they did not get into trouble as much as the victim, and "weren't as difficult" or "misbehaving" as much.

"Clearly the information here I've stated is not consistent with IED, because if he had, he would get angry and blow up out of proportion even to minor provocation," said Dr Cheow. "So he should have been indiscriminately violent to his other children even if they didn't provoke him as much."

A person with IED would have the condition affecting his ability to work, but Ridzuan said he had not worked for six months as he had lost his IC.

He also admitted that it was not so much that he was unable to work, but that he preferred not to work and instead rely on others.

The trial resumes in the afternoon, with the defence cross-examining Dr Cheow.

The penalty for murder is death, or life with caning. 

Source: CNA/ll(mn)

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