A Singaporean woman who starved, assaulted and ultimately killed her domestic worker was sentenced to 30 years in prison on June 22, with the judge describing the case as “among the worst types of culpable homicide”.
The affluent city-state is home to about 250,000 domestic workers who mostly come from poorer Asian countries, and stories of mistreatment are common.
But the abuse inflicted on Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don, 24, was particularly awful and captured on CCTV installed in the family’s home. The domestic worker was stamped on, strangled, choked, battered with brooms and burnt with an iron, according to court documents.
The domestic worker died in July 2016, after her employer, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, repeatedly assaulted her over several hours.
Gaiyathiri, 41, pleaded guilty in February to 28 charges including culpable homicide. Another 87 charges were taken into account in sentencing.
She appeared in court on June 22 wearing glasses and a black mask, and sat silently with her eyes closed and head bowed as the judge read his decision.
After hearing an additional plea of mitigation submitted by Gaiyathiri in a bid to avoid the life sentence sought by the prosecution, Justice See Kee Oon sentenced her to 30 years in prison starting from the date of her arrest in 2016.
See cited the “abject cruelty of the accused’s appalling conduct” in his sentencing, which he added must signal “societal outrage and abhorrence” at the crime.
But taking into account the defendant’s obsessive compulsive disorder and the depression she developed around the time she gave birth, See said he did not think that life imprisonment was “fair and appropriate”.
The prosecution had sought a reduced charge of culpable homicide rather than murder – punishable with the death penalty in Singapore – after taking into account her mental health.
The maid was employed by Gaiyathiri and her husband, a police officer, in 2015 to help take care of their four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son.
But Gaiyathiri physically assaulted the victim almost daily, often several times a day, with her 61-year-old mother sometimes joining in, according to court documents.
The domestic worker, who had been employed by the family for over a year at the time of her death, was only allowed to sleep for five hours a night, and was forced to shower and relieve herself with the door open.
Provided very little food, she lost about 38 per cent of her body weight during her employment, and only weighed 24kg at the time of her death.
Gaiyathiri’s lawyer Joseph Chen had asked for a sentence of eight to nine years, arguing that a “combination of stresses” had turned the struggling mother into an abuser.
He argued that a harsh sentence would deter mothers in a similar situation from asking for help – an argument that the prosecution called “disingenuous”.