SINGAPORE: A domestic helper who stabbed her employer nearly 100 times had her appeal against her murder conviction dismissed by the Court of Appeal on Thursday (Mar 31).
Indonesian national Daryati, 29, was sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2021.
She had claimed trial, and was convicted of one charge of slashing 59-year-old Seow Kim Choo multiple times with the intention of injuring her in a manner sufficient to cause death.
A second charge of attempting to murder Mdm Seow’s husband when he tried to help his wife was considered in sentencing.
The murder took place in June 2016, two months after Daryati started working for Mdm Seow and her family.
On Thursday, pro bono defence lawyer Leon Koh pursued a defence of diminished responsibility and argued for Daryati to be convicted of a lesser charge of culpable homicide.
Delivering the judgment on behalf of a three-judge panel, Justice Andrew Phang said the appeal depended in particular on whether Daryati suffered from persistent depressive disorder with intermittent depressive disorder at the time of the offence.
However, based on evidence from a psychiatrist, he found that Daryati did not meet the diagnostic criteria for these disorders, mainly as she did not suffer from the clinical symptom of functional impairment.
He cited Daryati’s own evidence during the trial that she was able to handle her job scope and complete assigned chores every day without error.
He also noted a “substantial degree of plotting” by Daryati before carrying out the attack on her employer, which displayed her ability to think ahead and reason clearly.
This included drawing a map of the house, enlisting the help of the family’s other helper and choosing the “most opportune” moment to strike.
There was also no evidence of functional impairment before Daryati’s arrival from Indonesia, where she was able to finish high school, hold down a factory job and form relationships with others, said Justice Phang.
THE COURT’S FINDINGS
For a defence of diminished responsibility to stand, the accused must be suffering from a specific abnormality of mind that substantially impaired their mental responsibility for causing the death.
Mr Koh contended that Daryati’s anger, seen in the 94 stab wounds she inflicted on Mdm Seow, demonstrated such an abnormality of mind.
He said this was supported by a “confluence of factors”: Daryati’s “frenzied attack”, her decision to also attack Mdm Seow’s husband instead of fleeing the scene, and the rape and sexual abuse she suffered when she was a teenager in Indonesia.
At her trial, Daryati had said she did not intend to kill Mdm Seow and wanted only to threaten her, slashing her face to get the keys to a safe where Daryati’s passport was kept.
She had also told the lower court she was in a “very angry state” and could not control her hands.
During the appeal hearing, Mr Koh was questioned several times by the judges, who expressed doubts about whether anger and rage were necessarily connected to an abnormality of mind.
“Perfectly rational people” can display sudden bursts of rage, said Justice Phang. “In that sense it’s emotion, in that sense it’s raw. But it’s not necessarily something that stems from an abnormality.”
Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Kok Weng said that the trial judge in the lower court had already noted the high number of stab wounds on the victim and asked for a further report from the prosecution’s expert, psychiatrist Dr Jaydip Sarkar, taking this into account.
Dr Sarkar gave a “cogent” explanation for the multiple stab wounds, reasoning that it was due to Daryati’s anger that her plan to return to Indonesia had been thwarted, said Mr Wong.
The appellant argued that the trial judge should have relied on the evidence of another psychiatrist, Dr Tommy Tan, who diagnosed Daryati with persistent depressive order before and after her arrival in Singapore, as well as a relapse of major depressive disorder after starting work in Singapore.
However, Justice Phang said that Dr Tan did not account for the lack of functional impairment. Daryati’s self-reported symptoms, including a depressed mood, loss of appetite and weight as well as suicidal thoughts, were also not supported by the facts of the case, said the judge.
“The most that can be said is that the appellant had two relatively short periods when she was distressed in Singapore,” said Justice Phang.
This was when Daryati first arrived, and an occasion near the end of May 2016 when she called her mother and received no response. She then sought permission from her employer to go home but her request was denied.
Even then, Dr Sarkar’s assessment was that her feelings of longing and homesickness were not beyond the realm of what was ordinarily experienced by migrant workers, said Justice Phang.
After the judgment was delivered, Daryati requested for an overseas phone call to inform her family of the verdict.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016
Daryati had worked for Mdm Seow and her family at her Telok Kurau home for only two months when she became homesick and longed for her lover, who was in Hong Kong.
She also wanted to return to Indonesia and start a business as she had financial problems back home.
All accounts showed that the victim and her family had treated Daryati well and given her adequate rest and food.
She wrote in her diary on May 12, 2016: “I must carry out this plan quickly. I have to be brave even though life is at stake. I am ready to face all risks/consequences, whatever the risk, I must be ready to accept it. I hope that this plan succeed and run smoothly. My employer’s family is my target. DEATH!!!”
Daryati roped the family’s other 27-year-old helper into the scheme to retrieve passports from a locked safe, but did not tell her about the murder she planned.
She hid weapons around the house before carrying out her plan on Jun 7, 2016.
She uttered a code word to the other helper before confronting Mdm Seow in her bedroom while brandishing a knife and asking for her passport.
When the older woman screamed, Daryati dragged her into a toilet and closed the door before slashing and stabbing her neck, head and face repeatedly.
Mdm Seow’s husband, Mr Ong Thiam Soon, called for his wife but did not receive a response. He peered into the toilet through a gap at the bottom of the door and saw blood on the floor.
When he used a screwdriver to open the toilet door, Daryati attacked him while armed with two knives. Despite being stabbed in the neck, Mr Ong managed to overpower her and dragged her out of the toilet.
He bound her hands with cable ties and took her to the main gate, while a family member called for an ambulance. Daryati was arrested and taken to the hospital, along with Mr Ong.
An autopsy report found Mdm Seow’s cause of death to be multiple incised and stab wounds to the head and neck, which resulted in massive bleeding.
A further report stated that considerable amounts of force were used in inflicting at least three of the stab wounds to Mdm Seow’s face.
A psychiatric report from the Institute of Mental Health found that Daryati had been suffering from adjustment disorder in the two weeks leading up to the murder.
She was convicted of murder under Section 300c of the Penal Code, which carries the sentence of death or life imprisonment. The prosecution did not seek the death sentence.
Source: Channel News Asia