SINGAPORE: A 41-year-old woman who killed her foreign domestic worker after repeatedly abusing her over the course of 14 months has been sentenced to 30 years in jail.
In February, Gaiyathiri Murugayan pleaded guilty to 28 charges, including culpable homicide, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by starvation, voluntarily causing hurt by a heated substance and wrongful restraint.
Ms Piang Ngaih Don - a 24-year-old Myanmar national - died on the morning of Jul 26, 2016, after being attacked by both Gaiyathiri and Gaiyathiri's mother, which led to a bone in her throat being fractured and irreversible brain damage.
Over the course of about 14 months Ms Piang Ngaih Don - who came to Singapore to work for Gaiyathiri in May 2015 - was kicked, punched and beaten with objects such as a broom and a metal ladle.
Gaiyathiri had also lifted Piang Ngaih Don up by her hair, shook her violently and pulled out a clump of her hair, even using an iron to burn the maid’s arm on one occasion.
READ: Woman admits killing maid; starved her to 24kg and assaulted her almost daily in 'utterly inhumane' case
Gaiyathiri was originally charged with murder following a recommendation by the Attorney-General, but this was brought down to culpable homicide due to the evidence that surfaced.
Her new lawyer, Joseph Chen, had in April sought a reduced charge without life imprisonment.
Addressing the court on Tuesday (Jun 22), Mr Chen asked for his client to be sentenced to no more than eight to nine years in prison, noting she had already been in remand for five years.
This would allow Gaiyathiri’s two children to still have the chance to grow up with their mother upon her release, he said, reiterating the call for a gag order to be placed on the case so as to prevent her children from being stigmatised.
Besides Gaiyathiri’s major depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder - which the court previously heard substantially contributed to her offences - the defence noted the accused also struggled to cope with her children's illnesses.
The accused blamed this on the maid’s poor hygiene practices, such as not washing her hands before touching cooking utensils, Mr Chen said.
Mr Chen also noted his client was a first-time offender, and was no longer a maid abuser.
Deputy Chief Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir however countered that given the severity of the offences, being a first time offender carried no mitigating value.
Mr Mohamed Faizal pointed out that the accused had initially been charged with 115 offences, noting that even this was not exhaustive as the charges were largely focused on abuse committed in the last two months of Piang Ngaih Don’s life.
Though the defence had argued that Gaiyathiri had linked her children’s health concerns to Piang Ngaih Don’s cleanliness, the prosecution noted that most of the accused’s actions had no connection to the hygiene practices of the deceased, “even to the most conspiratorial mind”.
Mr Mohamed Faizal pointed to Gaiyathiri burning the maid’s arm with an iron, which the accused had blamed on the maid purportedly burning some clothing.
The continued blaming of the victim showed Gaiyathiri’s lack of repentance and shirking of responsibility, he said.
The prosecution also questioned the motive behind the request for a gag order, noting that the issue of protecting Gaiyathiri’s children had not come up when proceedings began in February.
Calling for a life sentence for Gaiyathiri, Mr Mohamed Faizal said the message needed to be sent that anyone who abused a domestic worker the way the accused had would face the harshest sentence.
In passing sentence, Justice See Kee Oon said the prosecution had painted a “shocking story” of how the victim was abused, tortured, humiliated, starved and ultimately died at the hands of the accused.
"The prosecution’s submissions are framed in forcefully emotive terms, but words cannot adequately describe the abject cruelty of the accused’s appalling conduct," he said.
"This is undoubtedly among the worst cases of culpable homicide."
Justice See added there was no legal justification for a gag order, as it was “well-established” under the law that personal or family hardships were not mitigating factors, nor was media or public interest.
While Gaiyathiri’s psychiatric condition remained a significant sentencing consideration, the accused remained cognisant of her actions notwithstanding her conditions, he said.
Still, life imprisonment was not fair or appropriate, given Gaiyathiri was responding to psychiatric treatment and not deemed to be at risk of offending or a danger to the public, added Justice See.
He also noted that Gaiyathiri had previously employed four other domestic workers who did not appear to have any complaints regarding abuse or ill-treatment, adding the accused did not appear to have previously been a pathologically violent person.
Gaiyathiri's husband, suspended police officer Kevin Chelvam, faces five charges linked to the case for assaulting Ms Piang Ngaih Don and lying to the police that CCTV cameras in his flat had been removed.
Gaiyathiri's mother, Prema Naraynasamy, also has pending charges.