SINGAPORE: A woman who was raped and molested by her older brother when she was a young girl developed traumatic symptoms that were triggered when she saw her brother lead a "normal life" by getting married and having a child.
The woman, now 29, decided to set her entire family on fire and kill herself, but wanted to spare her favourite son, who was then six to seven years old, by giving him a "peaceful" death with less pain.
She injected him with insulin on 13 occasions over seven months, giving the boy headaches, dangerously low blood sugar levels and a seizure.
The woman, who cannot be named to protect the identity of her son, was given five years' jail on Wednesday (May 5) for one charge of poisoning her son.
After medical staff detected something amiss with the boy's repeated hospitalisation, the woman's offences were uncovered. She was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Munchausen syndrome, a disorder where a person makes up a disease.
The court heard that the woman stayed with her parents and her three brothers when she was born. When she was nine to 12, one of her brothers molested and raped her.
He was sentenced to a boys' home, but the woman "hated him" because of what he had done to her. Her relationship with her mother deteriorated as she felt her mother had taken her brother's side.
The woman also asserted that her father had also raped and molested her, but this was not proven in investigations.
She ran away and got married. She lived with her husband and had two daughters and a son with him. Sometime in 2017, after her father died, the mother of the accused moved to live with her.
In September 2018, the brother who had raped her got married. A few months later, his wife became pregnant and the accused found out about this. The court heard that this made the accused angry with her brother for being able to move on with his life. She felt he did not deserve such happiness after what he had done to her.
HER PLAN TO KILL HER FAMILY
The accused decided to kill herself, her mother, her brother and her three children in September 2019, when her brother's wife gave birth. She intended to burn everyone alive with petrol, except for her only son, her favourite child.
She intended to kill him by injecting insulin into him, as she did not want him to die in pain. At the same time, the boy reminded her of her brother and she began hating him.
After searching online for a "peaceful" way to die, the woman chanced upon the use of insulin. She found that high doses could cause one's blood sugar to crash, leading to brain damage, coma, or death. She decided to use two to three insulin pens at one go and inject a high dose into the victim.
She bought the pens from Malaysia and learned how to use them by watching YouTube. She administered the first dose to the boy, who was then six, in January 2019 after taking him to Causeway Point for lunch. She injected the insulin in his arm in the toilet after the meal and observed him, noticing that he became "extra hungry".
She continued to do this between January and July 2019, administering 20 to 30 units of insulin to the boy on 13 occasions. He began feeling side effects such as severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, double vision, tinnitus, photosensitivity and numbness in fingers.
He was hospitalised three times with low blood sugar levels and a hypoglycemic seizure on one occasion. Medical staff puzzled over the cause of his symptoms, and he had to be rescued with intravenous drips.
In July 2019, the victim went to the zoo for a school trip. According to a teacher, he was fine, but his mother claimed he was having a seizure and administered insulin to him. The hospital later confirmed he did not have a seizure on this occasion.
HOSPITAL UNCOVERS PLAN
During a hospital visit on Jul 16, 2019, a therapist spoke to the victim, who said his mother had injected him with medication from a pen on many occasions on his arms and buttocks. He said he would be hungry after the medication and opened his haversack to show biscuits and sweets that were inside.
Hospital staff confronted the accused that day, and after she admitted to injecting insulin into her son, the hospital called the police.
The victim showed symptoms suggestive of PTSD and has been discharged into the care of child protection services.
His mother was arrested and subsequently remanded. She was found to have major depressive disorder of moderate severity and PTSD, as she was directly exposed on multiple occasions to sexual violence by her biological father and brother, psychiatric reports said.
She was found to be a pathological liar, with her behaviour towards her son showing her need for attention. One report found her case to be a “classic presentation of ... Munchausen syndrome by proxy”, where she created symptoms of illness in her son for attention. She also displayed strong antisocial personality traits, although they did not amount to a disorder.
While her disorders substantially contributed to the offences, she was not of unsound mind at the time and she knew what she was doing, and that her actions would harm or even kill her son, the reports concluded.
PROSECUTION CALLS FOR SIX YEARS' JAIL, DEFENCE ASKS FOR FOUR
Deputy Public Prosecutor Bhajanvir Singh asked for six years' jail for the woman, saying she needs three to four years' treatment for rehabilitation. She cannot be relied on to be an effective and safe mother towards her children, he said.
While she has shown some improvement due to the counselling, trauma-focused therapy and medication she has been receiving in remand, she remains "an unreliable and ineffective mother", said Mr Singh.
She has also continued to lie to her cellmates, friends and prison counsellor that her son was fathered as a result of her brother's rape as she felt she would "enjoy more sympathy" this way, he said.
While in remand, she has lost her temper at other inmates and thrown tantrums that drew disciplinary actions against her.
"This is typically a case where the accused was unable to accept the fact that her brother was able to move on with his life," said Mr Singh.
"Because of this inability to accept this, she harboured dangerous thoughts of killing her brother, her mother, herself and her three children. In fact, she said she intended to do this in September (2019). This coincides with the time her brother's wife gave birth."
He said the insulin injections would have continued if not for the alertness of the staff at National University Hospital, and that the accused "played with the life of her son".
He added that the charge she faces is amalgamated and she could be jailed for up to 20 years, double the punishment as it is amalgamated and includes multiple instances of offending.
Defence lawyer Ng Pei Qi said six years is not warranted, calling instead for four years' jail. She said her client was molested and raped by her father and brother since she was nine.
"Her trauma is so deep-rooted that she sees the face of her attacker in her son," she said, calling the case "a tragic backlash of years of untreated trauma".
The accused is "a slave" to her mental disorders and felt guilty, feeding her son snacks after the injections as she felt she was countering the acts of insulin.
"The court is not sentencing a cold-blooded woman today, who cannot move on from her past, but a victim whose trauma has caught up with her," she said.
In response, the prosecution said depression, even if severe, cannot be a licence to kill others, and that the accused knew what she was doing.
"The rape by the father is an assertion made, and not something that is borne out by investigations, while investigations revealed that she was molested and raped by her brother, there is nothing to show that she was actually raped and molested by her father," said Mr Singh.
The judge noted that the accused's conduct was "clearly reprehensible", but also that she had mental disorders that substantially impaired her mental responsibility for the acts.