SINGAPORE — The man accused of strangling his heavily pregnant wife and their four-year-old daughter to death claimed he had come home to find his wife talking to another man in their bedroom and used a chopper to injure the man several years prior to the killings.
Teo Ghim Heng, 43, alleged that he had asked for a divorce after the incident in 2014, but his wife Choong Pei Shan, who was two years younger than him, “wanted to keep the family together”.
Around the same time, Teo’s income as a top property agent had dropped significantly and he couldn’t concentrate on his job properly due to the suspected affair, he told a psychiatrist.
More details about Teo’s background, financial troubles, and events prior to and after the killings emerged at the High Court on the fourth day of his murder trial on Friday (5 July).
The court had earlier heard from the prosecution that Teo never fully forgave Choong for an affair she had a few years back, and strongly suspected that the child was not his biological daughter.
Teo was assessed by Institute of Mental Health forensic psychiatrist Derrick Yeo not to have been suffering from any mental illnesses at the time of the alleged offences.
However, another psychiatrist, Dr Jacob Rajesh, disagreed. In two reports admitted to the court, Dr Rajesh said he found that Teo was suffering from major depressive disorder during the time of the killings.
Teo was not of unsound mind, Dr Rajesh wrote, as he was aware of his actions and knew that they were wrong. But his mental responsibility was “substantially impaired” by the disorder, said the defence psychiatrist.
Dr Yeo, under cross-examination by defence lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam on Friday, stood by his own assessment of Teo’s state of mind.
Dr Rajesh will take the stand at a later date.
According to Dr Rajesh’s reports, Teo and Choong, who were secondary school classmates, started dating while they were both married to their previous spouses.
Teo married his first wife in 2004 and they divorced in 2009. The couple didn’t have any children.
Teo and Choong got married in 2009. She worked as a personal assistant until 2012, when she became a homemaker. Their daughter was born at the end of 2012.
In 2011, Teo noticed some intimate messages from an army regular named Mark on his wife’s Facebook Messenger app while Teo was using her laptop. She said he was a friend and that she would stop contacting him.
However, in October 2014, Teo claimed to have come home earlier than expected and saw a pair of army shoes outside his home. He kicked open his bedroom door and found Mark sitting with his shirt unbuttoned and talking to his wife.
Teo took a chopper and injured Mark, who fled from the scene but didn’t make a police report, Dr Rajesh wrote.
“The defendant repeatedly used to call Mark from his wife’s phone and threatened him many times and asked him to meet up with him to ‘settle’ things. However, he did not turn up. The defendant asked his wife for a divorce following this incident, but his wife was not willing, as she wanted to keep the family together,” the psychiatrist added.
In 2015, however, Mark apparently sent Choong flowers twice - on Valentine’s Day and on her birthday a couple of months later. Nonetheless, Teo told Dr Rajesh that he didn’t question his wife about the incidents and continued to trust her.
Financial troubles, suicidal thoughts
Teo faced mounting financial debts starting from late 2014. Despite being a former top property agent, he only managed to close one deal in October that year.
He said he had asked his wife to find a job to supplement their family income, but she refused to do so as she could not cope with working and doing housework.
“She also told him that (he) had promised her when they got married, that he would be the breadwinner and would look after them financially,” noted Dr Rajesh.
Teo reported having depressive symptoms in the form of poor sleep, depressed mood, a constant sense of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness, and decreased appetite a few months prior to the killings, starting from around mid-2016.
During this time, he had difficulties concentrating in his work, and harboured thoughts of suicide at times, although he didn’t make any attempts on his life.
Dr Rajesh wrote, “The depressive episode was precipitated and perpetuated by his mounting financial debts and his sense of helplessness on his inability to pay off these debts and look after his family as well. He was also suffering from low self-esteem, which was worsened by his wife’s taunts about him being useless and not being a good father or husband.”
But Teo wanted to “act normal” in front of his family at weekly gatherings. He also didn’t want to burden his parents or make them distressed. But in not sharing his financial woes with his family, Teo “accentuated his sense of worthlessness and despondency,” added Dr Rajesh.
Teo said he had raised the possibility with his parents of moving back with them, as he considered selling his house. However, they were reluctant as his younger brother was also staying with them in their four-room HDB flat.
Two days prior to the killings, on 18 January 2017, Teo said Choong asked for a few hundred dollars to give to her parents for Chinese New Year, which fell on 28 January that year.
When Teo told her he didn’t have the money an argument broke out. A friend whom Teo had borrowed $20,000 from had also come by his house a few days earlier.
Feeling “extremely despondent” about having about $120,000 in debts, Teo “told his wife that a better way to avoid all this was for them to kill themselves”, Dr Rajesh wrote.
The next evening, Teo got a text message from the principal of his daughter’s private school, asking for two months of overdue fees amounting to about $1,700. “Upon receiving this message, he felt extremely despondent and depressed as he did not have the money and deleted the message and did not tell his wife about the message for the payment,” the psychiatrist added in his report.
‘Mind went blank’
On the morning of 20 January 2017, as his wife scolded him for not being able to pay for their child’s fees, Teo told Dr Rajesh that he got into a daze. “Then my mind went blank and even though my wife was scolding me, I could not hear anything she was saying.”
After killing his wife, who was more than six months pregnant, and their daughter, Teo told Dr Rajesh that he slit his wrist with a penknife, overdosed on Panadol, drank insecticide, tried to set fire to himself and also wanted to drown in the sea. He also slept next to the bodies of his dead wife and child for eight days.
All these showed that Teo had an “abnormal mind” and a “clinically depressed state of mind”, Dr Rajesh opined.
Teo had lost control in response to provocation by his wife, and was impaired in his ability to control his actions. “His ability to form a rational judgment and the ability to exercise self-control were impaired by his mental disorder,” added the psychiatrist.
Teo was arrested on 28 January. While in remand at Changi Prison, he was prescribed antidepressants but still had difficulty sleeping at night. “He also reported getting disturbing dreams of his daughter dying which distresses him immensely,” wrote Dr Rajesh.
The trial will resume at a later date.