Woman who tortured maid to death claims victim's family forgave her; court dismisses her request to disclose documents

Gaiyathiri Murugayan was handed 20 years' jail for abusing and starving the victim, Piang Ngaih Don.
PHOTO: Helping hands for migrant workers, ST File

SINGAPORE - Gaiyathiri Murugayan, who is serving a 30-year jail term for torturing and ultimately killing her domestic worker, on Wednesday (May 4) sought a court order to disclose various documents, making allegations against the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), her former lawyer and the prosecution.

Her bid was dismissed by a three-judge Court of Appeal, which said there was no basis on which it can order the disclosure of the material.

Among other things, Gaiyathiri wanted medical records of herself and her mother, Prema S. Naraynasamy, 63, who has also been charged with abusing the maid from Myanmar and has been in remand since July 2016.

Gaiyathiri alleged that she and her mother have been denied proper medical treatment in prison, but SPS has stated that both women have been provided appropriate treatment and care.

The 42-year-old also sought incident records kept by SPS in relation to her complaints about being physically and sexually abused by fellow inmates, alleging that her complaints were not properly investigated.

The agency has stated that it has fully investigated the incidents - including two where Gaiyathiri was the aggressor - and appropriately punished the relevant parties. It added that there were no incidents involving sexual abuse.

Gaiyathiri also sought WhatsApp messages allegedly exchanged between her and the victim's family, which she claimed would show that she had been forgiven by them.

In her affidavit, she also made allegations against her former counsel and the prosecution, casting doubt on her admission of guilt.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir said in written submissions: "The entire application reeks of an attempt to fish for evidence with the fanciful hope that some of the evidence could be used in her favour."

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30 years' jail for woman who starved and abused Myanmar maid to death
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The prosecutor argued that Gaiyathiri's application falls far short of the well-established legal threshold for presenting fresh evidence on appeal.

Her application, he said, reinforced the point that she lacks any remorse for committing one of the most heinous instances of abuse and culpable homicide in Singapore's history.

"It is a desperate and audacious (not to mention, belated) attempt to deflect blame to everyone except herself for her present predicament, in the hope that doing so would allow her to escape her just desserts in the form of a sufficiently stiff sentence."

He said it was implausible that the alleged exchange of messages even exists, given that Gaiyathiri was arrested soon after the victim's death and had no access to mobile devices.

Gaiyathiri, who was a housewife, was sentenced in June last year by the High Court for abusing and starving the victim, 24-year-old Piang Ngaih Don.

The victim weighed 39kg when she started working for the family on May 28, 2015. She weighed just 24kg when she died on July 26, 2016, from the final assault.

Gaiyathiri pleaded guilty to 28 charges, the most serious being one for culpable homicide, for which she was handed 20 years' jail.

The other charges were mostly hurt-related offences for abusing the maid.

Another 87 charges were taken into consideration.

The ordeal that Ms Piang Ngaih Don suffered in the last month of her life was captured on surveillance cameras that Gaiyathiri and her then husband, Kevin Chelvam, a policeman, had installed in their Bishan flat.

The maid was assaulted almost daily, suffering slaps, punches and kicks, and blows from hard objects.

Police officers taking Gaiyathiri Murugayan (left) and her mother Prema Naraynasamy to their home at Block 145 in Bishan Street 11 for investigations on Aug 3, 2016. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

She was deprived of food and rest; her meals often comprised sliced bread soaked in water, cold food straight from the refrigerator or some rice at night.

She was allowed to sleep for only about five hours a night and was made to shower and relieve herself with the toilet door open.

In the last 12 days of her life, she was tied to a window grille at night while she slept on the floor.

On the night of July 25, 2016, she was assaulted for being too slow in doing laundry.

Gaiyathiri continued assaulting her the next morning and choked her repeatedly.

After the victim became motionless, Gaiyathiri called for a doctor, who then called for an ambulance. The victim was pronounced dead in the flat by paramedics.

In sentencing, the High Court took into account that Gaiyathiri had post-partum depression and obsessive compulsive personality disorder, which affected her judgment.

Chelvam, who was suspended from service on Aug 8, 2016, faces multiple charges in connection with the abuse of the maid. The couple's divorce was finalised on Jan 13, 2020.

Prema, who often stayed with the couple in the flat, was also charged in 2016.

Their cases are pending in court.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.