Woman with schizophrenia acquitted of murdering her 8-year-old daughter on grounds of unsound mind
SINGAPORE: A woman suffering from untreated schizophrenia listened to voices telling her that her eight-year-old daughter was an evil spirit and needed to be killed.
She stabbed her daughter to death in front of her younger daughter, who was four at the time. The woman, who is now 36, cannot be named due to a gag order protecting the victim's identity.
She pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Sep 20) to one count of murder, but was acquitted of the charge under Section 251 of the Criminal Procedure Code as she was of unsound mind at the time of the offence.
The judge ordered that she be kept in safe custody in prison and for the case to be reported to the minister. According to Section 252 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the minister may then order her to be confined in a psychiatric institution, prison or another suitable place of safe custody during the President's pleasure.
The court heard that the Singaporean woman entered into a relationship with a man in 2007, and they had two daughters. They did not get married.
Around 2014, the woman's boyfriend returned to China to continue working there, while the woman stayed in Singapore with her daughters.
Before travel restrictions were imposed in China and Singapore because of the COVID-19 pandemic, either the woman or her boyfriend would travel to visit each other. However, when the pandemic broke out, they would only video-call each other.
In 2020, the woman and her daughters moved to live with their family members in a unit in Geylang.
FAMILY NOTICED HER STRANGE BEHAVIOUR
Their family members noticed that the woman behaved strangely between 2018 and August 2020. For instance, she suspected her phone and laptop were hacked, and that people were following her.
She was often suspicious that others would harm her, and would throw away food and drinks that her family members prepared, preventing her children from consuming them as well.
She also monitored her family members' cooking to ensure no poison was added, the court heard. The woman stopped sleeping with the air-conditioning on, as she would fall asleep very deeply and fail to notice if someone wanted to harm her.
She said someone wanted to kill her and her daughters, and said she needed to protect them.
In the two days leading up to the murder, closed-circuit television cameras at train stations captured her behaving erratically.
Two days before the murder, she entered Aljunied MRT station alone and took the train to Somerset. She left the station for several minutes before returning, but tapped out again after going through the gantry.
She later took the train to Tanjong Pagar, exiting and entering again after a few minutes. According to court documents, she travelled in this way as she was instructed by a voice to do so.
A day before the murder, she took her younger daughter to Aljunied MRT station in the morning and tailgated a commuter to enter the station with the four-year-old girl in her arms.
She went to Tampines MRT station, where she tailgated another commuter to exit the station. She behaved erratically in the area near Tampines MRT station for several hours, wandering aimlessly before sitting on the floor in the foyer of Tampines Mall with her daughter for about half an hour.
According to court documents, she was instructed by a voice to look for her house in Tampines and the voice told her not to bring her older daughter along.
Because of what the voice said, the woman brought only her younger daughter with her. She left her older daughter near the train station and asked her to leave them. The eight-year-old girl then went to her grandparents' coffee shop nearby.
WOMAN'S NIECE HEARD HER TALKING INCOHERENTLY
On Aug 10, 2021, the woman was in her bedroom with her two daughters. Her brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew were also at home, while her parents were working in their coffee shop.
Sometime before 11.38am, the woman's niece was eating breakfast in the living room when she heard the woman talking incoherently in Mandarin in her room, referring to names of Chinese historical figures.
The woman's niece went to her parents' room and told her mother what she had heard, but her mother said she did not hear anything. The niece then went back to the living room to continue her breakfast.
She later heard the woman's two children crying and decided to record the woman's rants, as she felt it would be useful if the woman were to seek medical help.
As the woman was speaking very loudly and incoherently, her brother went to her room to check on her. When he opened the door, he was shocked to see the victim lying motionless on the floor. There was a lot of blood, and the woman was naked and holding a pair of scissors.
The woman's brother shouted at her, and she walked towards him. He asked his family to call the police. He saw a blood-stained knife in the room, and he quickly took it and threw it towards the kitchen before closing the door.
He took pillows to protect himself before re-entering the woman's room. She was waving the pair of scissors, and he found her younger daughter hiding behind the door.
He grabbed the girl quickly and went to his bedroom to hide with his wife and children. His wife called the police, and he made a phone call to ask his parents to return home quickly as the woman had stabbed her daughter.
The police and paramedics arrived at about noon. Two officers entered the woman's room and saw her holding onto a pair of scissors, while her older daughter was lying motionless on the floor.
After assessing that the woman did not pose an immediate danger, the officers escorted her out of the bedroom.
The victim was motionless and had no pulse or breath. She was taken to hospital with multiple wounds on her body and neck, but died later that day despite resuscitation efforts. Her cause of death was determined to be stab wounds to her neck and torso.
The girl's mother was clothed and arrested.
WOMAN SUFFERED FROM UNTREATED SCHIZOPHRENIA
Investigations revealed that the woman was suffering from schizophrenia at the time of the offence. It had gone untreated for several years and worsened in severity as time progressed. At the time of the murder, she was suffering her first psychotic episode.
She began hearing voices in March 2021. They started out soft and infrequent, but became louder and the content more distressing. The voices told her that her food, water and cooking were poisoned.
They also told her to harm herself and her family. Specifically, the voices told her to kill her older daughter, as she was an evil spirit that needed to be killed.
On the day of the incident, the woman was with her daughters in her room when the voices again told her that her daughter was an evil spirit that needed to be killed.
Acting on the instruction of the voices, the woman stabbed her daughter to death and stopped only when the voices told her to stop, the court heard.
After this, the voices told her to take off her clothes and the woman complied, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Teo Lu Jia. The voices also told her to kill herself. Subsequently, her brother came in.
Ms Teo said that the woman was of unsound mind at the time of the offence and was hardly aware of what was going on. She was suffering from hallucinations and was mentally incapacitated such that she did not know what she was doing was wrong.
The woman is at high risk of self-harm and requires long-term supervision and psychiatric care, the court heard.
A psychiatrist assessed the woman and said she was severely psychotic at the time of the offence and was incapable of knowing the nature of her acts. Her psychosis caused her thinking and judgment to be so distorted and out of touch with reality that she was unable to differentiate between right and wrong, both morally and legally.
The woman is currently fit to plead in court.
The prosecutor asked for a court order for the woman to be kept in safe custody and for the matter to be reported to the minister.
It is undisputed that she caused her daughter's death, but in the circumstances, the prosecution urged the court to acquit the woman of her murder charge on the basis of an unsound mind.
Defence lawyers Choo Si Sen and his daughter Choo Yean Lin agreed with the prosecution's submissions.
"A young innocent life is lost. That cannot be undone," said Ms Choo. "However, moving on, we pray that the (woman) could recover speedily so she can be reunited with her aged parents and her youngest daughter."
Where to get help:
Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1767
Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222
Singapore Association for Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019
You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.