Murder conviction upheld for maid who got life term for stabbing, slashing employer more than 90 times

Selina Lum
The Straits Times
March 31, 2022

The Court of Appeal on Thursday (March 31) upheld the murder conviction of an Indonesian domestic worker who was sentenced to life imprisonment last year for stabbing and slashing her employer more than 90 times in 2016.

The three-judge court dismissed the appeal of 29-year-old Daryati, whose lawyer argued that she should be convicted of culpable homicide instead of murder, as she was suffering from persistent depressive disorder, which diminished her responsibility for her actions.

Daryati killed Madam Seow Kim Choo, 59, at her Telok Kurau house on June 7, 2016, after the employer foiled a plan by the maid to get back her passport and steal money before fleeing to Indonesia.

Madam Seow suffered at least 94 knife wounds, most of which were on her head and neck.

On Thursday, Mr Leon Koh, who represented Daryati on a pro bono basis, argued that it was “not normal” for the maid to have knifed her employer so many times, considering that she was treated well by the family, and that her actions were due to her mental disorder.

But the judges noted during the appeal hearing that the context cannot be ignored – Daryati’s attack was spurred by anger because her elaborate plan had gone awry.

The apex court rejected this argument and affirmed the lower court’s finding that the defence’s psychiatric report was not corroborated by independent facts and that the diagnostic criteria for the disorder were not met. 

Justice Andrew Phang, delivering the apex court’s decision, said there was clear evidence that Daryati did not experience any functional impairment during her time in Indonesia or in Singapore.

By her own account, she could handle her job scope and was able to complete her assigned chores.

“In addition, the substantial degree of plotting on the part of the appellant displayed her ability to plan ahead and reason clearly,” said Justice Phang.

“In the course of formulating her plan to steal money, retrieve her passport and escape, she drew a map detailing a layout of the house, enlisted the help of (another maid who worked for the family) and put much thought into choosing the most opportune moment to strike.”

Justice Phang said the opinions of defence psychiatrist Tommy Tan were not supported by the evidence.

For instance, Dr Tan cited weight loss as a symptom of Daryati’s disorder, but the objective evidence showed that she lost only 0.5kg between the time she arrived in Singapore and the time she was assessed in hospital after the murder.

Daryati started working for the family on April 13, 2016, but grew homesick and pined for her girlfriend, who was working in Hong Kong as a domestic worker.

She hatched a plan to threaten Madam Seow with a knife to get back her passport, which was kept in a locked safe, and to steal money so that she could start a business when she returned to Indonesia.

Daryati sharpened one knife and hid a second, smaller knife in a basket under the sink of a toilet on the second floor of the house.

She ultimately took along another weapon – a long knife from the storeroom – when she confronted Madam Seow.

When Madam Seow began to shout and struggle, Daryati stabbed and slashed her multiple times. At least three of the blows caused fractures to the victim’s face.

Daryati originally faced a charge for killing with the intention to cause death, which carries the mandatory death penalty.

Part-way through the trial, the prosecution reduced the charge to murder under Section 300(c), which also carries life imprisonment.

Daryati was first convicted of the lesser murder charge in April 2020. She then changed her mind and sought to further reduce the charge to culpable homicide. 

The trial continued and she was convicted a second time in April last year.

The Straits Times

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