SINGAPORE: Five months after her new maid began her job, a woman began to abuse Myanmar domestic help, beating and trampling her and starving her until she has only 24 kg.
In the days leading up to the 24-year-old victim’s death from a head injury with severe blunt neck trauma, she was starved and tied to a window rail at night and assaulted if she attempted to search the food in the trash.
Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 40, pleaded guilty on Tuesday February 23 to 28 counts, including culpable homicide, willfully causing severe starvation injury, willfully causing heated substance injury and unwarranted restraint. 87 other charges will be considered in the sentencing.
The prosecution calls for life imprisonment – but the judge postponed sentencing to a later date as he considered the case.
SHE CAME TO SINGAPORE FOR HER FIRST OUTSIDE JOB
The court heard that the victim, Burmese national Piang Ngaih Don, had come to Singapore to work for Gaiyathiri in May 2015 in what was her first job overseas as she was poor and needed to support her. three year old son.
She agreed to Gaiyathiri’s terms of employment – not having a cell phone or any day off, as Gaiyathiri didn’t want her mingling with other maids, in return for a higher salary and a rest at home.
Gaiyathiri became unhappy with the victim shortly after she started working for the household – which included Gaiyathiri, her husband, Gaiyathiri’s mother and co-defendant Prema Naraynasamy, Gaiyathiri’s two children and two tenants.
Finding that the victim was sluggish, unhealthy, and overeating, Gaiyathiri established a strict set of rules that the victim had to obey. Initially, she responded to a violation of these rules by shouting, but began to physically abuse the aid from October 2015.
CCTV footage from cameras installed in the home to monitor the victim and the children showed abuse in the last 35 days of the victim’s life.
She was given little food, including sliced bread soaked in water, cold food from the refrigerator, or rice, and was able to sleep for about five hours a night. She lost 15 kg during her job, losing about 38% of her body weight in about 14 months.
She had no privacy – being forced to shower and go to the bathroom with the door open while Gaiyathiri or Prema watched – and wore several layers of face masks while Gaiyathiri found her dirty and didn’t want to look at her face .
Gaiyathiri assaulted the victim almost daily, often several times a day, slapping, pushing, hitting and kicking her. She also stomped on the assistant while she was on the ground and attacked her with objects, including a broom, a metal ladle and other hard objects.
She also lifted the helper by her hair, grabbed her and shook her violently and pulled a tuft of her hair. On one occasion in June 2016, Gaiyathiri approached the victim as she was ironing clothes and pressed the hot iron to his forehead. Before moving the iron to the victim’s forearm, Gaiyathiri said, “If you like to burn people, how would you like if I burn your hand.”
The court saw several snippets of the abuse. The victim looked frail and his hair tied in knots that Gaiyathiri clung to while throwing her. She was shown to do her housework, with Gaiyathiri approaching and assaulting her, throwing her like a rag doll. The victim did not retaliate.
During the 12 nights before her death, the victim had her hands tied with a string to a window grill, so that she did not leave the room. She did not receive medical treatment for her injuries and was last taken to a clinic in May 2016 with a runny nose, cough and swelling in her legs.
When the aide took off his face mask and sunglasses at the clinic, the doctor saw bruises around his eye sockets and cheeks, but Gaiyathiri explained them by saying the victim frequently fell because she was clumsy.
She declined the doctor’s suggestions for further testing of the victim’s swollen legs as there may be underlying conditions.
THE NIGHT OF THE INCIDENT
The assault which led to the victim’s death occurred from the night of July 25, 2016 to the morning of July 26, 2016.
The helper was doing the laundry at around 11:40 p.m. on July 25, 2016 when Gaiyathiri felt she was too slow. She hit her with a closed fist, pulled her hair and told her to go faster. When the victim started to swing on his feet at the entrance to the toilet, Gaiyathiri told him not to “dance”, before hitting his head with a bottle of detergent.
The victim fell back, became disoriented, and was unable to stand after her legs gave way under her. Gaiyathiri called Prema and together they assaulted the victim, throwing water over him. Prema dragged the victim through the kitchen and living room to the bedroom, where Gaiyathiri kicked her in the stomach and Prema hit and strangled her.
When the victim asked Gaiyathiri if she could have dinner, Gaiyathiri replied that she had given him food earlier but was too sleepy to eat at that time. She could now sleep without dinner, Gaiyathiri said.
She forcefully tied the victim’s wrist to the window rail just before midnight and kicked her in the stomach, before leaving her on the floor in wet clothes.
At around 5 a.m., Gaiyathiri attempted to wake the victim, but she did not wake her. Angry, Gaiyathiri kicked and kicked the woman’s head and neck several times, lifted her by the hair, and pulled her head so that her neck stretched out towards back and strangled her.
Prema was also in the room and tried to wake the victim. When the woman stood still, both women got worried. Their attempts to revive her were unsuccessful, but they left her there until 9:22 a.m. when Prema supported the victim and tried to give her a cup of Nestum cereal drink while warming her hands and legs. .
After Prema suggested that they call a doctor because the victim was not moving, Gaiyathiri called the clinic for a home visit, lying that she found the victim on the kitchen floor and believed she had fallen. .
When the doctor asked her to call an ambulance as it could not arrive until later, Gaiyathiri insisted on waiting. While Prema and Gaiyathiri waited, they changed the victim from her wet clothes and carried her to the sofa.
When the doctor arrived around 10:50 a.m., she saw the victim lying on the couch with a gaping, pulse-free mouth, cold skin, and fixed, dilated pupils. She told the two women that the victim was dead and asked them to call the police.
EXPECTED TO BE SHOCKED, THE CLAIMED VICTIM HAD MOVED
Gaiyathiri and Prema expressed shock and claimed that the victim had moved a few minutes before the doctor arrived, and asked if they could call an ambulance instead. The doctor insisted she would wait for the police to arrive and asked Gaiyathiri if she had fed or beaten the victim, as she was very skinny, even thinner than when she last visited the clinic.
Prema replied that the victim was “eating a lot” and the doctor eventually called the police herself. Paramedics declared her dead at 11:30 a.m., while police asked Gaiyathiri why she hadn’t called for an ambulance. Gaiyathiri replied that the victim’s condition was “not serious” and that she was “only weak”.
An autopsy revealed 31 recent scars and 47 external wounds on the victim’s body. She had died of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy – a type of brain injury – with severe blunt trauma to the neck. She was emaciated and in poor nutritional status and would have starved to death had she been given more support.
The doctor found that the victim’s repeated suffocation resulted in brain damage and that Gaiyathiri holding the victim by the neck and shaking her like a rag doll probably fractured the victim’s hyoid bone in his throat.
The fracture itself was not fatal, but indicated a very severe blow, and the degree of force could be the tipping point that led to irreversible damage to the brain, with the victim’s poor nutrition compounding their inability to tolerate neck trauma.
Gaiyathiri has been evaluated multiple times by psychiatrists, with a 2019 report concluding that she suffered from major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), both of which largely contributed to her offenses.
She qualified for the reduced liability defense as her OCPD was a significant risk factor for worsening the severity of depressive symptoms of peripartum onset. It would have worsened his depression to an extent that would have partially altered his mental responsibility for his actions, the court said.
THE PROCEDURE CALLS FOR LIFE IMPRISONMENT
The prosecution, led by senior lawyer Mohamed Faizal, called for life imprisonment, saying it was the only sentence “that would speak of the harm done and the outrage felt by the community over a series of events as well. shocking “.
He said Gaiyathiri mistreated, starved, tortured and ultimately killed the 24-year-old helper in a way that would shock anyone’s conscience.
“Words like heinous, cruel and ‘inhuman’ are often used in submissions like these. But it is rare that even such hyperbole can not fully capture the unmistakable horror and monstrosity of the crimes committed by an accused. , words fail us, ”he said.
“The fact that one human being treats another in this perverse and utterly inhuman manner is the cause of the righteous anger of the tribunal; and the law must be passed with all its force to adequately defend the fundamental values of society and of human dignity which were violated in this case. “
Defense lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Diana Ngiam have instead requested 14 years in prison. Mr. Sudheesan said “life imprisonment is not necessary”, adding that “anger is for the crowd, but sagacity and temperance are for the court”.
He said his client’s story is “quite tragic”. She had suffered from postpartum depression from February 2015, made worse by an abortion she had a year later, and her rationality “was compromised”.
“She is very sorry. She is asking for mercy on this tribunal and she promises this tribunal that she will continue with all the treatment necessary for her well-being,” said the lawyer.
The parties will return at a later date for sentencing. The penalties for culpable homicide that do not amount to murder are life imprisonment and caning, or up to 20 years in prison, a fine and caning. Women cannot be caned.
Prema’s case is pending, while Gaiyathiri’s husband also faces outstanding charges of mistreating a maid.