Housewife who tortured and ultimately killed maid jailed for 30 years

Sentence is longest jail term meted out here in a maid abuse case

A 41-year-old housewife who starved, tortured and ultimately killed her domestic worker from Myanmar stared blankly into space after she was sentenced yesterday to 30 years in prison - the longest jail term meted out here in a maid abuse case.

In sentencing Gaiyathiri Murugayan, High Court judge See Kee Oon said: "Words cannot adequately describe the abject cruelty of the accused's appalling conduct."

He described the case as "among the worst cases of culpable homicide", noting that the victim endured agonising physical and psychological harm before she died.

The victim, 24-year-old Piang Ngaih Don, weighed 39kg when she started working for the family on May 28, 2015. She weighed just 24kg when she died on July 26, 2016, from the final assault.

However, Justice See was not persuaded to hand down a life term. "The sentence of the court is not and indeed should not be based on an overriding visceral sense of indignation," he said.

The judge said that while the sentence must "signal societal outrage and abhorrence", the fact that Gaiyathiri had psychiatric conditions that affected her judgment cannot be ignored.

Gaiyathiri was assessed to have suffered from post-partum depression and obsessive compulsive personality disorder.

She pleaded guilty in February to 28 charges, the most serious being one for culpable homicide, for which she was handed 20 years' jail.

The other charges were mostly hurt-related offences for abusing Ms Piang. Another 87 charges were taken into consideration.

In sentencing arguments yesterday, defence counsel Joseph Chen sought a jail term of eight to nine years.

Mr Chen said his client was struggling to cope with her children's illnesses, which she believed were caused by the maid's poor hygiene. Gaiyathiri's two children are now aged nine and six.

Mr Chen asked the court to place more weight on rehabilitation so that there would be a "healing effect" for Gaiyathiri and other mothers suffering from post-partum depression.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir countered: "A mental disorder per se is not a free pass."

Mr Chen said a member of Gaiyathiri's family has asked him to file an appeal against the sentence.

The incidents in the last month of Ms Piang's life were captured on surveillance cameras that Gaiyathiri and her then husband, Kevin Chelvam, a policeman, installed in their Bishan flat.

Ms Piang was assaulted almost daily, suffering punches and kicks and blows from hard objects. She was also deprived of food and rest and made to shower with the toilet door open.

On the night of July 25, 2016, she was assaulted for being too slow in doing laundry.

Gaiyathiri continued assaulting her the next morning and choked her. A few hours later, a doctor pronounced her dead in the flat.

Chelvam, 42, was suspended from service in 2016. He and Gaiyathiri's mother, Prema S. Naraynasamy, 62, have also been charged. Their cases are pending.