SINGAPORE: A domestic helper from Myanmar who stabbed her employer’s elderly mother-in-law to death in 2018 was found guilty of murder on Thursday (May 18).
Delivering the verdict, Justice Andre Maniam said that Zin Mar Nwe, then 17, had stabbed the 70-year-old victim, after the elderly woman had threatened to send her back to her agent.
He rejected the defence’s arguments that Zin Mar Nwe, now around 22, had not been conscious of the stabbing, that she was in a dissociative state of mind, or that she was suffering from an abnormality of mind.
“The accused’s decision to stab the deceased was an emotional, irrational one. But that, per se, does not mean that the accused was suffering from an abnormality of mind caused by mental illness,” said Justice Maniam.
The court previously heard that Zin Mar Nwe arrived in Singapore on Jan 5, 2018. While her passport stated her age as 23, investigations later revealed she was 17.
After two employers, Zin Mar Nwe began working for the victim’s son-in-law on May 10, 2018. She stayed with her employer, his wife and two teenage daughters.
The victim arrived in Singapore from India on May 26, 2018, intending to stay with the family for a month. The victim and her family members cannot be named due to a gag order.
On Jun 25, 2018, after a dispute between the two women, the victim told Zin Mar Nwe that she would be sent to her agent the next day.
Zin Mar Nwe then took a knife and approached the victim – who was watching television – and stabbed her 26 times until she stopped moving.
After this, Zin Mar Nwe broke a lock on a cupboard in the master bedroom and retrieved her belongings. She washed the knife and changed into a dress before leaving the flat.
She went to her maid agency to request for her passport but left when she heard agents say that they were about to call her employers.
Zin Mar Nwe then wandered around Singapore for about five hours before returning to the agency, where she was arrested.
After her arrest, Zin Mar Nwe gave various accounts of the incident in statements to the police, including that the victim had been killed by two fictitious men, noted Justice Maniam.
During the trial, Zin Mar Nwe sought to rely on the partial defence of diminished responsibility, on the basis that she suffered from mixed anxiety and depressive reaction or adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood at the time of the killing.
She relied on the defence’s expert witness, psychiatrist Tommy Tan, to argue that she was in a “dissociative state” and could not control or remember her acts when she was stabbing the victim.
Zin Mar Nwe also claimed that the victim had abused her, including scalding her with a heated pan, hitting her with her hands, or with other implements.
Justice Maniam rejected the defence that Zin Mar Nwe was in a dissociative state, as this would be inconsistent with her behaviour in the aftermath of the stabbing.
“From what she told the police, she reacted in anger at the deceased, and she was aware of what she was doing. Indeed, she described the stabbing in detail. I do not accept that she was not conscious of what she was doing,” said Justice Maniam.
He also rejected that she was suffering from adjustment disorder.
The judge accepted that the victim had hit Zin Mar Nwe to get her attention or to reprimand her, and that the victim had also retaliated when Zin Mar Nwe accidentally hurt the victim on certain occasions.
However he noted that from what Zin Mar Nwe said, the victim’s treatment of the domestic helper would not have caused the stabbing.
“The accused did not report the deceased’s treatment of her to her employer or his family members, or to her agent, or to her family. It seems that she was willing to tolerate such treatment, although she was hurt, sad, and felt unappreciated,” said the judge.
However, Zin Mar Nwe feared being sent back to the agent and being returned back to Myanmar in debt, and the deceased’s threat to send her back to the agent triggered the stabbing, he added.
Addressing Zin Mar Nwe, Justice Maniam said: “I find that the accused has failed to establish the defence of diminished responsibility. That was the sole basis on which the accused resisted the charge of murder, the elements of which are established on the evidence.” He then convicted Zin Mar Nwe.
Addressing the court on sentencing, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan said that the prosecution will not be seeking the death penalty. Zin Mar Nwe is represented by lawyer Christopher Bridges, under the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences.
The judge then directed parties to file submissions within four weeks before scheduling the sentencing hearing for a later date.
For murder, Zin Mar Nwe can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment. She cannot be caned as she is a woman.