SINGAPORE: An Indonesian maid who punched a baby in the neck, causing her death, before leaving the house to meet her visiting family, was sentenced to seven years' jail on Thursday (Nov 22).
Maryani Usman Utar, 25, pleaded guilty to one charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder for causing the death of Richelle Teo Yan Jia, who was a year old in May 2016.
The Teo family was Maryani's first Singaporean employers. She began work for Teo Kok Eng, 46, and his wife in January 2015, and her main priority was to care for Richelle.
Past midnight on May 8 2016, Maryani was about to fall asleep when she heard a "thud", followed by crying from the baby, whom she slept with on a bed.
Maryani looked down and saw the baby face down on the floor. She picked her up and patted her, coaxing the baby to sleep in about half an hour, the court heard.
However, the baby woke Maryani up with her cries at about 2am. Maryani fed the child milk, after which the baby vomited, staining her own clothes and Maryani's.
Richelle started to cry, with her cries growing louder as Maryani patted her. She patted the child "for what felt like a very long time" but to no avail, the prosecution said.
Maryani felt "very angry as she was very sleepy", the court heard.
She then punched the child on the left side of her neck with all her strength, in order to stop Richelle from crying and to vent her anger over her situation and the anger she felt towards Richelle's mother Mrs Teo.
According to her defence lawyer, Maryani had twice asked her maid agency for a transfer as she could not bear with the workload, but was unsuccessful. She also felt stress from working for Mrs Teo, who placed her under "close scrutiny" and scolded her.
After being punched, Richelle cried even louder. Maryani gripped the back of the infant's neck with all her strength for approximately half an hour, while simultaneously pressing her right fist against the side of Richelle's neck.
She did this until Richelle stopped crying, releasing her grip only after and when Richelle closed her eyes.
After this, Maryani placed the baby on the bed and washed Richelle's clothes, before changing out of her own soiled shirt and going to sleep without checking on Richelle's condition.
Later that morning, Maryani left the house at about 7.50am for her day off to meet her family members, who were visiting her for the first time in Singapore.
RICHELLE'S FATHER FINDS HER COLD, NOT BREATHING
Richelle's father, Mr Teo Kok Eng, checked on her at about 9am as it was her usual feeding time.
He saw that the left side of his daughter's face was darkened, and that her left arm and leg were darker than her right limbs.
He touched his daughter's left arm and leg and found that they were cold, before placing his finger below Richelle's nostrils and found that there was no breathing.
Panicking, he carried Richelle out of the bedroom, calling his wife and later the police. While waiting for an ambulance, they spotted their neighbours and asked them to take Richelle to hospital.
Richelle was pronounced dead shortly past 10am that same day.
At about 1pm, Maryani was found near Merlion Park and later arrested.
An autopsy report could not ascertain Richelle's cause of death, but found that death from an unnatural cause such as manual compression of neck could not be excluded.
A psychiatric report by a consultant with the Institute of Mental Health found that Maryani was suffering from depressive disorder of at least moderate intensity in the weeks and months leading up to the incident.
She had also experienced acute stress reaction in the days immediately before the incident and the clinical phenomenon of dissociation at the time of the offence. However, she was assessed as being not of unsound mind and was deemed fit to plead in court.
ATTACK "VICIOUS AND SUSTAINED": PROSECUTORS
Deputy public prosecutors Bhajanvir Singh and Kelly Ho asked for a sentence of at least eight years' jail for what they called "a senseless killing of a young infant who was completely defenceless", citing three aggravating factors.
First, Ms Ho said, the attack was "vicious and sustained", aimed at a vulnerable part of Richelle's body. The act was "clearly disproportionate" given how vulnerable and fragile a one-year-old is, Ms Ho added.
"The accused did not stop even when Richelle had stopped crying," she said.
Second, the attack was "wholly unprovoked", as all Richelle did "was to do what babies normally do, which is to cry", Ms Ho said.
Third, Maryani took out her anger at her own situation and her anger towards Richelle's mother on Richelle.
"We submit that in any event the situation the accused was in was not at all abusive," said Ms Ho. "The deceased's parents had never ill-treated her ... she was given sufficient food. She had in fact threatened to leave on a few occasions, but chose of her own volition to stay on."
Addressing Maryani's mental condition, Ms Ho said that "depression, even if severe, cannot be a licence to kill others".
COULD NOT BEAR WORKLOAD, TRIED TO ASK FOR TRANSFER: DEFENCE
Asking for a sentence of five-and-a-half to six years, Maryani's defence lawyer Mohamed Muzammil Mohamed said Maryani began working at 15 to supplement the income of her family.
She worked as a domestic helper with a family in Saudi Arabia for about four-and-a-half years from 2009, and she was happy working there, where she could use a phone and was given sufficient time to rest, said the defence lawyer.
When she came to Singapore from a village in West Java to work in 2015, she cared for Richelle's three-year-old brother, and later Richelle when she was born. She also did the usual household chores.
She would wake up at 6am and sleep at midnight, but had to wake up again at 2am to 3am to prepare milk and feed Richelle.
"Sometime in March 2015, Maryani felt (it was) unbearable to continue to work with the Teo family as she was frequently scolded by Mrs Teo for not performing her work according to her expectations," said the defence.
After the maid agency turned down her requests to transfer, Maryani asked Mrs Teo if she could return to Indonesia, but was persuaded by her to stay.
Although Maryani was never subjected to physical abuse, Mrs Teo was rude to her and Maryani felt "under close scrutiny of Mrs Teo if she made any mistakes", the defence said.
About a month before the incident, Maryani felt humiliated after she was scolded by Mrs Teo in a shopping mall for forgetting to pack the baby's milk powder before they left home.
This affected her and placed her under undue stress, said the defence. Where the Saudi employer was kind to her, she found the opposite here, and felt "aggrieved by the lack of basic comforts" by her Singaporean employers.
Particularly, she was not allowed to use a mobile phone to call her family, and when she secretly managed to get phones to use for this purpose, they were confiscated by Mrs Teo, said the defence.
"During the one-and-a-half years of working for the Teo family, according to Maryani, she was able to make only six phone calls to her family (through the landline)," he said. "She felt there was no privacy when speaking to her mother as the employers were always around."
A week before the incident, Maryani's mother told her that her business, which she had set up with money remitted to her by Maryani, had failed. This made her sad and depressed, the defence said.
Maryani is remorseful, the defence said, and "the guilt will remain with her throughout her life even after she returns to her village".
Justice Hoo Sheau Peng in passing her sentence said that the law recognises a need to protect vulnerable children against violence, and said she believes the sentence should be sufficient to serve as a signal.
She allowed Maryani some time to speak with officials from the Indonesian embassy after the hearing.