A 41-year-old Indian-origin Singaporean woman has been sentenced to imprisonment for 30-years. The woman has been convicted for killing her domestic help after repeatedly abusing her over the course of 14-months of employment.
This could possibly be the longest jail term meted out in Singapore in a domestic help abuse case.
Piang Ngaih Don, a 24-year-old Myanmar national (victim), died on the morning of July 26, 2016, after being attacked by both Gaiyathiri (accused) and her mother Prema Naraynasamy (accused), which led to a bone in her throat being fractured and irreversible brain damage.
Piang came to Singapore to work for Gaiyathiri in May 2015 and worked for her for nearly 14-months. During the course of her employment, the accused woman kicked, punched and beat Piang with objects such as a broom and a metal ladle. Gaiyathiri had also lifted Piang up by her hair, shook her violently and pulled out a clump of her hair, even using an iron to burn her arm on one occasion.
Arguments On Behalf Of Accused
Gaiyathiri’s new lawyer, Joseph Chen, had in April sought a reduced charge without life imprisonment, reported Channel News Asia.
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.
Arguments On Behalf Of Victim
Deputy Chief Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir 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 February this year, 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, Channel News Asia reported.
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.
Pronouncing the judgement on Tuesday, 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. He quoted:
The prosecution’s submissions are framed in forcefully emotive terms, but words cannot adequately describe the abject cruelty of the accused’s appalling conduct.
This is undoubtedly among the worst cases of culpable homicide.
Gaiyathiri’s husband, suspended police officer Kevin Chelvam (accused) too, faces five charges linked to the case for assaulting Piang and lying to the police that CCTV cameras in his flat had been removed. Gaiyathiri’s mother, Prema Naraynasamy, also has pending charges, according to the Channel report.