Maid who caused toddler's death jailed for 7 years

Maryani Usman Utar, 25, caused the death of one-year-old baby girl Richelle Teo Yan Jia at the family's flat in Simei on May 8, 2016.
Maryani Usman Utar, 25, caused the death of one-year-old baby girl Richelle Teo Yan Jia at the family's flat in Simei on May 8, 2016.BH FILE PHOTO

Judge says sentence a signal to deter others; maid admits she was never ill-treated and had enough to eat

An Indonesian maid, who pleaded guilty to causing the death of a toddler in her care, was convicted yesterday in the High Court and jailed for seven years.

Maryani Usman Utar, 25, had caused the death of one-year-old Richelle Teo Yan Jia between 2am and 7.36am at a flat in Block 225, Simei Street 4 on May 8, 2016.

The tragedy happened on Mother's Day. The court heard that the maid killed the child by gripping the back of her neck with one hand and punching and pressing her neck with the other, until she stopped crying. Maryani did this knowing such acts were likely to cause the girl's death.

In passing sentence, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng made clear the law needs to protect vulnerable children from violent caregivers.

The judge added that the sentence should be a signal to deter others, taking into account the aggravating and mitigating factors.

The bespectacled maid, a divorcee from West Java, remained quiet as the judge pronounced the sentence. Maryani had worked for the Teo family from January 2015, performing household chores and tending to the children.

During the hearing, it emerged that three months after starting work with the family, she contacted the maid agency to request a transfer. She did this several times.

But Maryani was turned down and told to complete her contract. The baby's mother, Mrs Florence Teo, also persuaded her to stay on, said her defence counsel.

Although Maryani said she was never subjected to ill-treatment, and was given adequate food, she claimed to be afraid of Mrs Teo, who was always checking on her.

A month before the incident, Maryani said Mrs Teo scolded her while at a shopping mall. She felt humiliated and aggrieved.

 

In his submissions, her lawyer, Mohamed Muzammil Mohamed, said unlike with her previous employers in Saudi Arabia, who were kind to her, Maryani found her experience here to be the opposite.

"She was driven by anger, frustration and fatigue when she assaulted Richelle," said Mr Muzammil.

He also pointed to the Institute of Mental Health's psychiatric assessment which showed her mental condition at the material time had impaired her mental responsibility.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Bhajanvir Singh and Kelly Ho, in their submissions, underlined the public interest consideration in dealing with cases involving violence towards vulnerable victims.

They said mental condition was one aspect of the case and "depression cannot be a licence to kill others", citing past cases. Maryani was motivated by a desire for revenge for what she perceived was poor treatment by her employer.

Instead of leaving her employment, which she could have done and had indeed threatened to do on several occasions, she vented her anger on Richelle in "such a heinous way as to cause her death".

The judge ordered Maryani's sentence to be backdated to May 10, 2016 and at the request of defence counsel, granted Indonesian Embassy officials, who were present, permission to speak with her at the end of the hearing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2018, with the headline 'Maid who caused toddler's death jailed for 7 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe