A Hong Kong woman accused of murdering her five-year-old stepdaughter three years ago has admitted that she ought to bear “the most responsibility” for the child’s death.
Testifying for the first time on Wednesday, the 30-year-old stepmother said she had envisioned a happy family, but came under “tremendous stress” as she struggled with financial issues, never-ending chores, childcare and treating the wounds that later emerged on her stepchildren’s bodies as a result of her repeated use of corporal punishment.
“At the very beginning, I only intended to teach them,” she explained in a soft voice to a High Court jury, referring to the deceased and her older brother. “I talked to them, but on many occasions, even after the scolding, after the hitting, there were no other methods that could be used. When anger got the better of me, I just picked up the rattan stick and hit them.”
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The stepmother also admitted that she had at times deprived the children of food and proper medical treatment, but said she “never” intended to seriously harm the girl before her unfortunate death from septicaemia on January 6, 2018.
“What would you say about the death of [the girl]?” the woman’s defence counsel Caesar Lo asked. “Were you responsible for that?”
“I would be the one who had the most responsibility,” the stepmother replied. “Because I was the one responsible for taking care of her. And whatever wrong she had committed, she was a five-year-old girl after all and I was the one responsible for her.”
The housewife and the children’s 29-year-old father have both pleaded guilty to two counts of child cruelty, inflicted over a period of 150 days starting on August 10, 2017, when they moved in with the woman’s 56-year-old mother.
Prosecutors have said the couple indirectly but significantly contributed to their daughter’s death because their prolonged abuse and neglect had considerably weakened her immune system and compromised her ability to fight the bacterial infection that ultimately killed her.
But the couple have denied murdering the girl, offering instead to plead guilty to manslaughter, which the prosecution rejected. The woman’s mother has also denied four counts of child cruelty.
The court heard the pair met online in early 2016 through a “People Nearby” function on WeChat. The woman testified that she had noticed the man’s display picture of him kissing a little girl, and started chatting with him.
At the time, both of them had just divorced their respective partners in the previous year and had been granted custody of their children.
“I discovered our backgrounds were pretty similar,” she continued. “He came from a single -parent family, he was divorced with kids, and so I had a feeling it would be easier for this person to understand me.”
These conversations also gave her the impression that he was, relatively speaking, a family-oriented man who liked kids.
“To me, he was kind of an ideal person,” she said. “And so after I came to know more about him, we got together.”
In September 2016, she and her seven-year-old daughter from her previous marriage moved in with the man, his mother and his two brothers. Two months later, they got married.
The stepmother said she initially got along well with her new husband’s family. But over time, differences emerged with her mother-in-law over disciplining the children. She added there were also conflicts with the brothers-in-law.
Eleven months after moving in, they decided to move in with her mother.
“We were very happy after the move,” she said, “thinking that finally we get to have a family, a real home that belongs to us. Thinking that it would be possible for me to grow up happily together with them.”
“Were you able to do that?” her counsel asked.
“No,” she replied. “I was under tremendous stress. It seems that I couldn’t do anything right.”
On August 17, 2017, she complained about the five-year-old and texted her husband: “I’m close to killing her.”
“Do it,” he replied on WeChat. “She’s testing your limits.”
The stepmother said she and her husband both used the rattan stick and slippers to strike her step-children.
She also admitted to hitting her biological daughter on the palm, but that it only happened once.
When asked why there was such a big difference in the treatment of the three children, the stepmother explained: “Because [my daughter] was really a very good girl. She knew what she was supposed to do and she never needed me to worry about her studies, because most of the time [she] had me in her heart, she would consider on my behalf ... she would think of ways to resolve problems or difficulties for me.”
But she also said her child would “sort of exaggerate” things, like her account of what happened the night before her sister died.
The stepmother said her husband did throw the five-year-old upwards into the air to play with her, but denied that her head had ever hit the ceiling or made any sound, as her daughter had claimed.
“Actually it was me who imitated the noise,” she explained. “I said, ‘going to bump, going to bump ... Bum-bum-bum.’”
Her testimony continues on Thursday.
None of the defendants or their relatives can be identified due to a gag order from Mr Justice Albert Wong Sung-hau, aimed at protecting the children.