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The Straits Times
May 18, 2023
A domestic worker who stabbed her employer’s mother-in-law 26 times in 2018, after the 70-year-old woman threatened to send her back to Myanmar, was found guilty of murder on Thursday.
Myanmar national Zin Mar Nwe, who is now 22, came to work in Singapore in January 2018. She was instructed by her agent to declare her age as 23, but investigations revealed she was 17 at the time.
She started working for her third employer, identified as Mr S, on May 10, 2018. On May 26, 2018, the family of four was joined by the man’s mother-in-law, who had come to Singapore from India for a one-month stay.
On June 25, 2018, the two women were alone in the flat when the maid grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stabbed the victim multiple times.
The maid left the unit with some cash and went to her agency to ask for her passport, but left when she heard that the staff there were about to call her employer.
She roamed around for five hours before returning to the agency, where she was arrested.
The victim and her family members cannot be identified owing to a gag order as one of the witnesses in the trial is below 18.
After her arrest, the maid initially denied stabbing the victim and pinned the blame on two men. She later admitted she had stabbed the victim.
Zin Mar Nwe said she was physically abused by the victim, but was triggered to stab the victim after the woman threatened to send her back to the agent, which would result in her being sent back to her home country in debt.
In her fifth statement to the police recorded on July 1, 2018, the Myanmar woman listed numerous instances of how the victim abused her.
She said days after the victim came to stay, the woman started to use her knuckles to knock the maid on her head or back whenever she did not understand what the victim wanted her to do.
On average, she said she got two to three knocks a day.
She said on one occasion, while she was massaging the victim, the victim slapped her because she found the massage painful.
On another occasion, the maid had turned on the stove wrongly, resulting in a sudden burst of flames that burned the victim slightly. Zin Mar Nwe said the victim then pulled her hand close to the flames.
On Thursday, the High Court accepted that the victim had hit the maid to get her attention or reprimand her, and that the victim had retaliated when the maid accidentally hurt the victim.
Justice Andre Maniam said: “I do not believe that the accused would have stabbed the deceased if there were just an isolated statement by the deceased, on the day in question, that the accused would be sent back to the agent.”
The judge found that the statement was made after a period in which the victim had scolded, hit and hurt the accused.
“But for the threat to send the accused back to the agent, however, the accused would not have stabbed the deceased,” added Justice Maniam.
Zin Mar Nwe’s assigned lawyer, Mr Christopher Bridges, had argued that she should instead be convicted of culpable homicide, relying on the psychiatric opinion of Dr Tommy Tan that the maid was suffering from adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood at the time.
But Justice Maniam rejected this defence. He said he preferred the opinion of Dr Alias Lijo that the maid was not suffering from any mental illness at the time that reduced her responsibility for her actions.
The judge also did not accept Dr Tan’s opinion that the maid was in a “dissociative state” at the time of the stabbing. He found that the maid was conscious that she was stabbing the victim. He noted that she could remember details of the stabbing, and was able to describe the stabbing to the police. That undermined Dr Tan’s conclusion that her mind was not conscious of what she was doing, said the judge.
The case was adjourned to a later date for sentencing.
Zin Mar Nwe faces the death penalty or life imprisonment, but Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan said the prosecution was not seeking the death sentence.