SINGAPORE: After her 95-year-old employer spat in her face, a housekeeper got angry and decided to ‘teach her a lesson’ once and for all.
The maid from Myanmar took two knives from the kitchen and stabbed the elderly woman while she slept. One of the knives went through the victim’s mouth while the other lodged in his neck.
Sandar Htoo, whose identification documents say she is 36 but looks much older, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on Tuesday 15 November.
Sandar pleaded guilty to one count of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. She suffered from an adjustment disorder that significantly impaired her responsibility for the act, the prosecution said.
The court heard that Sandar started working for the victim, Madame Ang Pek Chai, at her home in Serangoon in February 2020.
Mdm Ang, who was Sandar’s second employer, lived in a house on Recreation Road with her 78-year-old son. She had three other children who lived in nearby houses.
Sandar was in charge of household chores and was Mdm Ang’s main carer. Mdm Ang had difficulty walking and needed a walker, relying on Sandar to get around the house.
On the morning of July 6, 2020, Sandar woke up at 5 a.m. and was doing her chores around 8 a.m. when she heard Mdm Ang using the upstairs bathroom.
She climbed up to help him and found Mdm Ang coming out of the bathroom with his walker.
Mdm Ang was angry at Sandar for being late to help her and berated her, before spitting in her face more than once.
THE ACCUSED FELT INSULTED AND ANGER FOR THE SPITTING
Sandar felt insulted and angry, but shut up and wiped the saliva away with her shirt. She continued with her chores that morning, but felt angry again when she saw Mdm Ang reading her diaries, as she felt that Mdm Ang was acting as if the spitting incident had not happened.
Mdm Ang then took a nap in her room. While Sandar was cleaning a bathroom, she started thinking about the spitting incident.
She was upset as she claimed that it was not the first time that Mdm Ang treated her badly. According to Sandar, Mdm Ang had previously scolded and slapped her.
Sandar got angry and wanted to teach the old woman a lesson. She went to the kitchen and grabbed two knives, one 30cm long and another 18cm long.
A knife in each hand, she goes up to Mdm Ang’s room. When she got there, she hesitated and paced.
She thought about slapping Mdm Ang and telling her how she had suffered, but decided against it as she thought the elderly woman might not understand her.
She then decided to stab Mdm Ang. She walked over to the bed where Mdm Ang was sleeping and plunged the 30cm long knife into the woman’s mouth and the other knife into the side of her neck.
Mdm Ang woke up and struggled, but Sandar covered her with a blanket and fled with the two knives still lodged in the old woman.
She escaped by climbing over a fence and running towards Upper Serangoon Road.
She asked a passerby to help her get to a police station, and the passerby called a Grabcar for her. When she arrived at the police station, Sandar said “Ah Ma killed” and made a stabbing gesture.
She was taken home, where Mdm Ang was lying in a pool of blood on the bed. The longer knife was in his hand and the other knife was still in his neck.
SANDAR’S MENTAL STATE
A psychiatric evaluation revealed that Sandar suffered from adjustment disorder with depressed mood at the time of the offence.
His distress stemmed from difficulty coping with his duties, barriers to communication and his social isolation in the months prior to the offence.
His mind abnormality significantly impaired his mental responsibility and ability to control his actions, the court heard.
Deputy prosecutors Han Ming Kuang, Delicia Tan and Grace Chua have asked for 18 to 20 years in prison for Sandar.
Ms Chua said Sandar’s act was deliberate and there was a breach of trust. The victim was also a vulnerable person, she said.
Sandar was defended by attorneys Daniel Koh and John Joseph under the Capital Offenses Legal Aid Scheme. She had originally been charged with murder.
The defense said Sandar’s actual age was around 50 at the time of the offense. She had lied about her age to improve her chances of finding a job in Singapore.
Lawyers said it was “mature age” and asked to be given weight, but the prosecution objected. On the contrary, Sandar should have known not to commit the offence, Ms Chua said.
The defense instead asked for 12 to 15 years in prison, citing an initial guilty plea, Sandar’s almost immediate surrender and his mental state.
The judge said the court should protect domestic workers from abuse by employers, but there should also be a deterrent against domestic workers attacking their employers.
Judge Pang Khang Chau noted the psychiatrist’s observations that Sandar had been abused by Mdm Ang, but that a change of job was not an option under the circumstances.
He also noted the “social isolation” Sandar faced, which prevented her from seeking help. Judge Pang said the circumstances referred to actions taken by Singapore during the “circuit breaker” period.
The offense took place in July 2020, when Singapore was just emerging from that period, the judge said.
He noted that Sandar hesitated before stabbing the victim. Once the victim resisted, Sandar did not continue stabbing, he said.