A 38-year-old Indonesian domestic worker who killed her 77-year-old employer by plunging a knife into her neck was sentenced to 15 years’ jail in the High Court on Monday (23 April).
Minah, who goes by one name, had earlier pleaded guilty to one charge of culpable homicide for killing Tay Quee Lang on 13 February last year. She had committed the crime after losing her temper with Tay over the latter’s nagging and later told the police that Tay’s death was a suicide.
Tay’s family members, who were in the public gallery, were heard jeering at Minah as she was led away after the sentencing, said media reports.
According to court documents, Minah began working for Tay and her husband, 78-year-old Tan Hee Seng, last January and lived with the couple – both retirees – in their flat at Tampines Street 22.
She had gotten along well with the couple in the short time she worked for them, having lost her temper only once at Tan after being scolded by him for wasting water.
Angry at employer’s nagging
On the day of the incident, Minah had gone about her usual routine caring for Tay – which included massaging her, assisting her to the kitchen for breakfast and helping Tan to shower her. Due to a fall in December 2016, Tay required help moving about and with basic activities such as feeding herself.
Sometime between noon and 1pm, Minah helped Tan move Tay to a chair in the living room. Tan then left the house at about 1pm for a medical appointment. He did not notice anything amiss with either Minah or Tay at the time.
While Minah was later having her lunch in the kitchen, Tay called out to her from the living room. Minah went to attend to Tay but the latter said there was nothing she needed, so Minah went back to her meal.
A short while later, Tay called out to Minah once more. When Minah responded this time, Tay scolded her for taking a long time to finish her meal and for using her mobile phone while eating. Minah then told Tay in a raised voice that she was going back to the kitchen.
Minah was washing dirty plates when Tay called out to her for a fourth time, which led to them shouting at one another. Minah then became extremely angry with Tay and grabbed a kitchen knife with a 22cm blade, before heading into the living room to confront Tay.
Tay continued to shout and nag at Minah even as the latter approached her with the knife in hand. Despite seeing the weapon, Tay said that she was not afraid of Minah and continued to nag Minah about her work and phone usage.
“During this time, (Minah) took small steps closer to the deceased, until the knife’s edge was only inches away from the centre of the deceased’s chest,” said the prosecution.
A struggle ensued when Tay tried to grab the knife, which ended when Minah stabbed the blade into Tay’s throat – leaving the victim “gasping for air and groaning in pain, with her eyes still opened”.
According to the autopsy report, the knife had been plunged so deep that it left a cut on the top of Tay’s left lung.
Lying to the police
Realising that there were droplets of Tay’s blood on her fingernails, Minah then went to the kitchen sink to wash them off. She then called Tay’s daughter on the home’s landline .
A neighbour who was returning home at the time and had heard “a female voice crying very loudly”, went over and saw Minah pacing about the flat’s living room while murmuring “tolong, tolong (‘please, please’, in Bahasa Indonesia)”.
When the neighbour spotted Tay with the knife in her throat, he immediately called for the police. According to his call, Minah had told him that Tay had taken a knife and tried to kill herself.
She later told the officers who questioned her that she had found Tay with the knife embedded in her neck. Minah was then brought back to Bedok Police Division and was subsequently referred to the Criminal Investigation Department.
In a psychiatric report dated 20 March, Minah was found to be “not of unsound mind at the time of the alleged offence” and did not qualify for diminished responsibility.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Bhajanvir Singh said that Minah, who was hired to care for Tay, had betrayed the trust of her employers. He called for a deterrent sentence of 15 years to be imposed, noting that Tay’s death – which arose from a “minor quarrel” – was “senseless and unwarranted”.
Minah’s laywer Nasser Ismail asked for a sentence of 12 to 15 years, saying that his client was remorseful and is looking to apologise to Tay’s family for her actions.
Addressing Minah, Judicial Commissioner Audrey Lim said, “Although she nagged at you, your response is unwarranted. And when she tried to push your hand away, you didn’t stop and instead pushed (the knife) into (her) throat.”
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