PUTRAJAYA • A Malaysian couple who starved their Cambodian maid to death in 2012 will be hanged, after the Court of Appeal found them guilty of murder instead of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Hardware store owner Soh Chew Tong, 46, and his wife Chin Chui Ling, 43, were found guilty of manslaughter by the Penang High Court in May 2013. Each was sentenced to 24 years in jail.
However, in a unanimous decision yesterday, the Court of Appeal overturned the earlier manslaughter conviction.
"We set aside the conviction and sentence imposed by the High Court and substitute with an order of conviction and sentence under Section 302 of the Penal Code," Justice Zakaria Sam said when reading out the verdict, as reported by the Malay Mail Online news site.
After hearing the ruling, Chin, who seemed taken aback, broke down while hugging her husband in the dock. She wept uncontrollably and slowly sat down while her husband stood expressionless. Their family members rushed to console them, The Star reported.
Their lawyer, Datuk K. Kumaraendran, later told reporters that his clients had instructed him to file an appeal with the Federal Court.
The bruised body of Ms Mey Sichan, 24, was found by police at the couple's residence in a shoplot at Bukit Mertajam, Penang, in April 2012.
The Cambodian domestic helper started working for the couple in July 2011 after she was certified by a doctor to be fit for work.
Ms Mey, who was 1.48m tall, was just 26.1kg - grossly underweight - when her body was found.
A post-mortem showed she had 29 old and fresh injuries, including lacerations and bruises, all over her body. The cause of death was acute peritonitis resulting from a perforated gastric ulcer associated with abuse and neglect.
The lack of food and her injuries were said to have worsened her gastric ulcer, which led to acute peritonitis and her subsequent death.
The prosecutor said Ms Mey told the maid agency she was not given enough food by the couple.
The court heard that Soh and Chin, who were known to have a daughter, caused the death of Ms Mey at their home between Jan 1 and April 1, 2012.
The defence lawyer argued Soh should be freed as he was never a party to the offence, adding that he was mostly occupied with breeding arowana and was rarely at home.
When Soh and Chin were first hauled to court in 2013, the trial judge amended the original murder charge at the close of the prosecution's case and ordered the couple to enter their defence on a manslaughter charge.
The couple managed to get a stay of execution of the jail term pending disposal of this appeal.