A couple who cruelly abused their 26-year-old flatmate for eight months, until she died from a horrific beating in April 2015, were sentenced to jail yesterday.
Tan Hui Zhen, 33, was sentenced to 161/2 years' jail, and her husband Pua Hak Chuan, 38, was given 14 years' jail and 14 strokes of the cane.
The couple had pleaded guilty on Monday to various charges for the extensive torture of Ms Annie Ee Yu Lian, a waitress who had intellectual disabilities. She died of multiple injuries in their Woodlands four-room flat.
Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said this was an "appalling" case and that the couple had abused the victim in an "extremely cruel and inhumane manner", causing her undignified death.
They were initially charged with murder. The Straits Times understands that the charges were amended after the police completed investigations into Ms Ee's death and on the basis of forensic pathologist reports.
Tan pleaded guilty to two counts each of causing grievous hurt and causing grievous hurt with a weapon, while Pua pleaded guilty to one count of causing hurt and two counts of causing grievous hurt with a weapon.
Justice Hoo said Tan and Pua had abused the trust of a vulnerable victim who treated them as her family. When Ms Ee suffered in silence, this emboldened the couple to escalate the abuse, said the judge.
Couple's families apologise to victim's kin, seek forgiveness
The families of the couple who abused their flatmate until she died have apologised to the victim's family, while urging the public not to let their outrage spill over to them.
The eldest brother of Tan Hui Zhen told the media outside the courtroom after the couple were sentenced yesterday that he wanted to say sorry to Ms Annie Ee Yu Lian's family, while acknowledging that an apology was not enough.
"We are fully agreeable that they should be punished for what they have done," said the man in his 30s, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan. He said anyone would "feel disturbed" by what his sister and brother-in-law Pua Hak Chuan had done to Ms Ee.
The case has generated public outrage over the couple's horrific acts of abuse. An online petition seeking harsher punishment has gathered more than 20,000 signatures.
Mr Tan added that while members of the public are free to comment, he pleaded with them to "rest it as it is".
"Those who are responsible for the acts are going to be punished. There should not be any more unfortunate happenings to people related to them," he added.
He dispelled speculation that the couple were facing less severe charges as a result of their family background or money, noting that lawyer Josephus Tan from Invictus Law Corporation was acting for them on a pro bono basis.
He said his sister's mental condition had been "under reported" in the media.
"We did observe signs of her being psychologically not that normal... It's most unfortunate that there wasn't any initiative to seek professional help prior to the tragedy happening."
He added that the family members are still committed to supporting her, saying: "Not because we condone what has been done... but that's our social responsibility."
Separately, Pua's mother said through Mr Josephus Tan that she was deeply apologetic to the victim's family and that her son got what he deserved.
The woman in her 60s also asked for the public's understanding and forgiveness.
Mr Josephus Tan said families of both accused have been under "tremendous pressure" in the past few days, after details of the abuse were revealed in court when they pleaded guilty on Monday.
Tan suffered from depression and borderline personality disorder, but the judge gave this little weight. However, she took into account as a mitigating factor that the couple had come clean in revealing what they had done to the victim.
Ms Ee first met Tan when they were teenagers. She moved into Tan and Pua's flat in 2013 after she was estranged from her family.
The beatings began in August 2014, when Tan blamed Ms Ee for a bedbug infestation. They began beating her for "misdeeds" such as lying or taking too long in the shower. They would assault her with a 1kg roll of shrink wrap, targeting her buttocks, where the injuries would be less conspicuous. She was beaten almost daily.
On the day of the fatal assault on April 12, 2015, Ms Ee cut her wrist with a pair of scissors but Tan took it away. Weak with multiple rib fractures, covered in bruises and blisters, and short of breath and incontinent, Ms Ee could not help but urinate on the floor, which invited a vicious beating that night.
By the morning, she was dead.
Tan eventually called the police. She told them the victim was clumsy and often injured herself.
An autopsy report showed that Ms Ee had suffered fractures to seven vertebrae and 12 ribs.
She died of a rare cause known as acute fat embolism. As a result of the blunt force trauma to her buttocks, fatty tissue entered her bloodstream and travelled to her lungs, creating a blockage of the blood vessels that led to progressive cardiac and respiratory failure.
Outside the courtroom, Tan's eldest brother told reporters he apologised to the victim's family. He agreed the couple should be firmly punished for what they had done.
He also dispelled public speculation that the charges were reduced because of family background or money, noting that Mr Josephus Tan from Invictus Law Corporation acted for them pro bono.
Pua's mother, through Mr Josephus Tan, conveyed her deep apology to the victim's family and said her son got what he deserved. She also asked for the public's understanding and forgiveness.