Apex court upholds death sentence for man who strangled wife and daughter

Teo Ghim Heng murdered his wife and daughter in their Woodlands flat on Jan 20, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE
Teo strangled his wife Madam Choong with a towel, then strangled his daughter. PHOTO: ADE TEO/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The highest court in Singapore on Wednesday (Feb 23) upheld the death sentence imposed on a former property agent for murdering his pregnant wife and their four-year-old daughter.

Teo Ghim Heng, 46, strangled his wife Choong Pei Shan, 39, a housewife who was six months pregnant, and daughter Zi Ning in their Woodlands flat on Jan 20, 2017.

He spent a week with their bodies in the unit before setting the corpses on fire.

On Wednesday, a five-judge Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of Teo, who argued that he was suffering from depression, which diminished his responsibility for his acts, and hence he should be convicted of culpable homicide instead.

Teo also argued that two homicide-related provisions in the Penal Code were unconstitutional because they effectively allowed the prosecution to choose the sentence to be imposed on the offender.

Justice Judith Prakash, delivering the apex court’s decision, said the lower court was correct to find that Teo did not qualify for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder and that he could not avail himself of the defence of diminished responsibility.

The court added that Teo’s constitutional challenges were without merit.

Teo and Madam Choong married in 2009.

He was a successful property agent but, in 2015, his income dropped due to a downturn in the market.

In late 2016, he took on another job as a sales coordinator at a renovation company. But the family's expenses remained unchanged as Teo had a gambling habit.

By the end of 2016, he was saddled with a debt of about $120,000 and had even listed their flat for sale.

On Jan 18, 2017, the couple argued over the family's finances. During the quarrel, he brought up an extramarital affair that Madam Choong had in 2014.

On the morning of Jan 20, 2017, Teo decided not to send Zi Ning to school as her fees were overdue.

When she found out, Madam Choong berated Teo for being useless.

He strangled her with a bath towel before using his bare hands to make sure she was dead. He then strangled his daughter.

He said in court that he did not want Zi Ning to live without her parents.

In November 2020, the High Court convicted Teo of two counts of murder after rejecting his contention that he was suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD), and that he had been provoked and lost control after his wife called him “useless”.

A third charge of killing his unborn son was withdrawn by the prosecution.

On Wednesday, the apex court agreed that Teo did not meet the diagnostic criteria for MDD such as depressed mood, significant weight loss, insomnia and diminished ability to think.

For instance, the court said, Teo’s self-reported account that he had difficulty concentrating at work was inconsistent with evidence that he was doing well at work.

The court noted that Teo also had the presence of mind to evade detection and cover up his tracks in the aftermath of the murders.

He came up with a story that he and Madam Choong had earlier made a suicide pact and even fabricated suicide notes.

He kept the air-conditioning running to slow down the decomposition of the bodies and bought air fresheners to mask the smell of burning and decomposition.

He called his mother-in-law and mother and lied that he had been chased out of the flat, to explain the family’s absence from Chinese New Year festivities.

“These acts were conscious, rational and deliberate,” said the court.

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