SINGAPORE: A couple accused of murdering their five-year-old son in 2016 by repeatedly pouring hot water on him was acquitted on Friday (Apr 3) of their capital charges and will face lesser charges.
The 27-year-old parents, Azlin Arujunah and Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, were each cleared of murder with common intention after a trial, as the judge found that the prosecution had not proven the element of common intention.
Justice Valerie Thean said that a common intention to murder must exist before the offences were committed, in this case a series of four scalding acts.
However, "there is nothing here on which we could infer the intention", she said, adding that she was acquitting the pair as she felt it was "not safe to convict", as the charges had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecution had tried to urge the judge to draw an adverse inference from the couple's refusal to take the stand, as only they knew what happened.
Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, who represents Ridzuan, said that the prosecution was "asking the court to infer from very scanty evidence that there was an agreement of common intention to cause the injuries".
"They also say that the accused persons have not proven their defence because they did not take the stand and an adverse inference should be drawn from their failure to take the stand which would in turn advance the prosecution's case that there is common intention," he said.
"Both accused persons have given detailed accounts of their involvement in the alleged charges. It is really not for them to take the stand so that the prosecution can use them to fill up gaps in their case. The prosecution bears the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that each and very element is made out."
The judge said that the medical evidence shows that the boy died from a collective injury from the four scalding incidents.
"The law on common intention is that you do need the intention to exist prior to the commission of the offence, which must mean prior to the four acts," she said. "There is nothing here on which we could infer the intention for (the murder charge) injury."
"I do feel that this particular case is different and therefore I do not think that one can hold beyond reasonable doubt that there was this common intention."
The case was adjourned to a later date for the prosecution to prepare lesser charges. They had prepared alternative charges of voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means, with common intention, but the court heard that the issue with common intention still remained.
The judge adjourned the case for the prosecutors to take instructions on the charges to tender.
WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE TRIAL
The trial began in November and revealed details of the boy's alleged abuse - including how he had been pinched with pliers, burned with a heated spoon and confined in a cage meant for a cat.
His parents had other children and lived with some of them in a one-room rental flat, but the victim had been living with another family shortly after his birth in January 2011, returning to his parents' household only in May 2015.
The abuse allegedly began about a year later, with the parents hitting him with implements such as a broom or hanger and using pliers to pinch his thighs and buttocks.
One beating by Azlin in August 2016, over a suspected toppling of a biscuit tin, purportedly left marks on the boy's stomach and left him with a limp and misaligned kneecap.
Before the boy died, his parents scalded him with hot water on a few occasions, leaving him limping in pain with blisters and peeling skin, the prosecution argued.
The abuse came to a head on Oct 22, 2016, when the boy was confined in a cage measuring 0.91m by 0.58m by 0.7m.
When the boy did not want to remove his shorts for a bath, his father allegedly hit him with a broom before throwing cups of hot water at him.
The boy crouched down in the toilet as Ridzuan purportedly poured hot water over his back and calf, and the boy fell forward onto the bathroom floor and stopped moving.
His parents did not take him to hospital immediately as they were afraid of getting arrested for child abuse, but took him to a hospital after more than six hours.
They were arrested after the hospital called the police.
The boy later died in hospital after going into shock during surgery. One expert estimated him to have burns on more than 70 per cent of his body, with the burn injuries appearing raw and untreated. The boy had burns over his torso, genitals and his "entire palm" was burnt.
THE COUPLE'S DEFENCE
The crux of the defence for both parents was that there was no common intention to murder their son. The prosecution had argued that the charge was based on four acts of abuse over a period of time, but the judge pointed out that not all the acts involved both parents.
Defence psychiatrist Dr Jacob Rajesh testified that Azlin had been scalded as a child by her own mother and so learnt this method of punishment.
He said she had taken on her husband's blame for some of the offences, and that he had allegedly abused her during their marriage, slapping her when she was pregnant and assaulting her.
Azlin suffered from an adjustment disorder with depressed mood that affected her self-control, said Dr Rajesh.
Ridzuan, on the other hand, was described in court as having an absent mother as a child and "extremely low to low average" intelligence.
A doctor found that Ridzuan had ADHD, intermittent explosive disorder and hypnotic use disorder at the time of the offences, with a causal link between the disorders and his offences, but this was disputed.
An Institute of Mental Health consultant had examined Ridzuan and found that he appeared to have antisocial personality traits but did not suffer from any mental disorder or intellectual disability.
Had the couple been convicted of murder with common intention, they would have faced death, or life imprisonment with caning.