Parents on trial for son's murder: Lacerations on 5-year-old's body could be from caging

Dr Chan Shijia, who had examined the cage, said it was possible for someone who was confined inside to get scratched by the metallic bars while moving about.
Dr Chan Shijia, who had examined the cage, said it was possible for someone who was confined inside to get scratched by the metallic bars while moving about.PHOTO: COURT DOCUMENTS

Severe scalding caused his death, says pathologist, but other injuries had a part

Lacerations on the face and scalp of a five-year-old boy who was allegedly scalded to death by his parents could have been the result of him being kept in a cage meant for the family's pet cat, a forensic pathologist told the High Court yesterday.

Dr Chan Shijia, who had examined the cage measuring 91cm long, 58cm wide and 70cm tall, said it was possible for someone who was confined inside to get scratched by the metal bars while moving about.

She was testifying on the second day of the trial of Azlin Arujunah and Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, both 27, who are charged with murder with common intention to inflict severe scald injuries on their son.

They also face other charges relating to abusive acts, including pinching him with a pair of pliers, hitting him with a broom and confining him in a pet cage.

In her autopsy report, Dr Chan found that the boy died due to severe scald injury.

Partial thickness burns, also known as second-degree burns, covered 75 per cent of his body, said Dr Chan. Such burns are "very painful" and "go down to the blood vessels of the skin", she told the court.

As pictures of the boy's body, with patches of raw-looking skin, were shown on a screen, a stony-faced Azlin looked elsewhere while Ridzuan kept his head down.

Dr Chan also elaborated on other injuries that the boy suffered, such as wounds over his face and scalp, fracture of his nasal bones, and bruising on his limbs and scalp.

The soft tissue between the boy's lips and gums was torn, which she said would have been caused by a fall or punch of "a considerable amount of force".

The pathologist said the injuries to the boy's head and face contributed to his death, as the bleeding affected his body's ability to fight the scald injury.

 
 
 
 

Explaining how scald injury could lead to death, Dr Chan said that the loss of skin causes the body to lose fluid and blood pressure to drop. This affects heart function and makes it harder for the victim to breathe. Infection also sets in, she said.

"It's a multi-organ involvement that leads to death."

In the week leading to his death on Oct 23, 2016, the boy was scalded with hot water on at least four occasions by either Azlin, Ridzuan or both of them.

Between Oct 15 and 17, Azlin grabbed the boy by the ankle and poured hot water over him repeatedly. Between Oct 17 and 19, both parents splashed cups of hot water on the boy.

On Oct 21, Azlin chased the boy around the living room and threw cups of hot water at him. Ridzuan splashed hot water at the boy again the next day.

Cross-examining Dr Chan yesterday, the respective lawyers acting for Azlin and Ridzuan sought to cast doubts that their clients were responsible for the fatal injury.

Azlin's lawyer Terence Tan questioned if the boy would have been able to run around the living room if the earlier burns had been severe.

Dr Chan replied that the boy was running "for his life" and that people have been known to run after being stabbed.

Ridzuan's lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam noted that there were four incidents of scalding. He contended that it was not possible to tell which injury was the fatal one.

He also suggested that the boy was suffering from pneumonia, which increased his risk of death.

Questioned by Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Wen Hsien, Dr Chan said there were no definitive signs of pneumonia when she examined his lungs.

A week after the autopsy, a study of the boy's cells showed pneumonia, but she said it was "patchy" and "minimal", and did not cause his death.

The trial continues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2019, with the headline 'Lacerations on body could be from caging'. Print Edition | Subscribe