Fatal abuse of Myanmar maid: Court of Appeal rejects woman's request to introduce fresh evidence
SINGAPORE: Gaiyathiri Murugayan, who was sentenced to 30 years' jail last year for killing her maid, failed in her attempt on Wednesday (May 4) to seek further records in support of her appeal against her sentence.
The Court of Appeal dismissed her application seeking the disclosure of additional materials and permission to introduce these as fresh evidence, ruling that they were irrelevant for her appeal.
Gaiyathiri's appeal against her sentence for her crimes has not yet been heard.
The fresh evidence included records of WhatsApp messages between Gaiyathiri and the victim's next-of-kin that purportedly showed the family had forgiven her. Gaiyathiri also requested permission to introduce a psychiatrist's report.
The victim, Myanmar national Ms Piang Ngaih Don, died on Jul 26, 2016 after being repeatedly abused over the course of 14 months. The High Court judge called her ordeal "undoubtedly among the worst cases of culpable homicide".
Ms Piang Ngaih Don weighed just 24kg when she died of brain injury with severe blunt trauma to her neck. In the days leading up to her death, she was starved and tied to a window grille at night and assaulted if she tried to rummage for food from the dustbin.
In February last year, Gaiyathiri pleaded guilty to 28 charges including culpable homicide and voluntarily causing grievous hurt by starvation. Another 87 charges were considered in sentencing.
She was sentenced to 30 years' jail in June last year. Her mother, Prema Naraynasamy, and husband, Kevin Chelvam, also face charges of maid abuse.
Delivering the judgment on behalf of a three-judge panel, Justice Andrew Phang dismissed the entire application, saying that there was no legal basis for the court to order the disclosure of the additional materials, which were irrelevant to any appeal.
Gaiyathiri addressed the judges herself, telling the court that many things had transpired in prison including "confrontations between inmates and the officers treating us badly".
Aside from the WhatsApp messages, she sought her and her mother's prison medical records, claiming that they had not been provided appropriate treatment and care by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS).
She also asked for incident records from SPS in relation to her complaints about being physically and sexually abused by fellow inmates, which she claimed SPS had not properly investigated, as well as her children's private medical records.
She also sought permission to introduce a further report by the defence's psychiatrist Dr Jacob Rajesh, and for a Newton hearing to resolve differences in opinion between him and Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist Dr Derrick Yeo.
A Newton hearing is done to settle certain issues that both defence and prosecution are unable to agree on.
"COMPLETE LACK OF REMORSE"
Deputy Public Prosecutors Mohamed Faizal, Senthilkumaran Sabapathy and Sean Teh said that Gaiyathiri's application only proved a "complete lack of remorse" on her part and that there were no grounds to disclose the materials requested.
"With respect, the entire application reeks of an attempt to fish for evidence with the fanciful hope that some of the evidence could be used in her favour," said the prosecutors.
They said it was "implausible" that the WhatsApp messages between Gaiyathiri and Ms Piang Ngaih Don's next-of-kin existed as there would have been no opportunity for such an exchange.
They noted that Gaiyathiri was arrested soon after the victim's death on Jul 26, 2016 and has been in custody since then, with no access to her mobile phone or any device with WhatsApp capability.
They also argued that her claims about being denied proper medical treatment and not having her complaints about other inmates fully investigated by SPS were false.
They added that the defence would have received the medical reports if an appropriate request had been made, and that it was "deeply disturbing" Gaiyathiri's lawyer had not attempted to do so before making this application.
The prosecutors also said all of Gaiyathiri's children's medical reports in their possession had already been disclosed, and that she could request further reports through SPS and her lawyer.
As for her request regarding Dr Rajesh's psychiatric report, the prosecutors said that this was a "clear abuse of the process of the court".
Gaiyathiri's psychiatric condition was a central issue in the court below, and in her plea of guilt, she made an informed and considered decision to accept the opinion of Dr Yeo, said the prosecutors.
Gaiyathiri was assessed multiple times by psychiatrists, with a 2019 report concluding that she suffered from major depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder, both of which substantially contributed to her offences.
She qualified for the defence of diminished responsibility, with her obsessive compulsive personality disorder a significant risk factor for aggravating the severity of depressive symptoms of peripartum onset. It would have worsened her depression to an extent that partially impaired her mental responsibility for her actions, the court below heard.
"The applicant therefore is clearly seeking to have her cake and eat it; having already had the charge reduced on the basis of the reasoning found in Dr Yeo's report, she now disingenuously seeks to disavow it to demand a better deal," said the prosecutors.
COURT OF APPEAL DISMISSES MOTION
The Court of Appeal noted that there was no more dispute over Gaiyathiri's guilt following her unqualified plea of guilt in the court below. The only issues that could remain were the propriety of the plead-guilty procedure, and whether her sentence was excessive.
In that regard, there was no basis for the court to order disclosure of the materials that Gaiyathiri requested as they were irrelevant to those issues, said the court. In particular, the existence of the WhatsApp messages with the victim's next-of-kin was "at best, speculative".
The court also pointed out that it had not seen the further report by Dr Rajesh, and that it was unclear there was a disagreement between the two psychiatrists or that the further report even existed.
They added that the alleged report by Dr Rajesh would have been relevant in the court below and should have been raised there, and that this would militate against granting permission to introduce the report as evidence now.
The prosecutors sought personal costs to be paid by Mr Joseph Chen, Gaiyathiri's lawyer during the time she made the application, and the court ordered both parties to submit arguments on this within eight days.