SINGAPORE, July 30 — A father suffering from a severe mental illness could not forget the scene of his toddler daughter crying when his wife left her in his care after a preschool meeting.
He felt that he had no place in the two-year-old girl’s heart and thought that his former spouse had already found a new boyfriend.
In his mind, there was no other way to maintain his relationship with his daughter besides ending their lives.
And so on the evening of June 16, 2019, he slashed his own neck before smothering his daughter to death with a pillow.
His wife later found both of them in the matrimonial bedroom of the flat they used to share, located in the north-east region of Singapore.
Yesterday, the 36-year-old Singaporean man was sentenced in the High Court to six years’ jail after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
He had initially been charged with murder.
He cannot be named due to an order earlier imposed by the court. The prosecution did not reveal the reason for the gag order in open court.
Dr Stephen Phang from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), who had examined the accused, found that he was suffering from major depressive disorder at the time of the incident.
This significantly contributed to his use of violence and aggression and substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his actions, the psychiatrist said.
Yesterday’s proceedings were held over video-conference platform Zoom, in light of Covid-19 safe distancing measures.
In passing his sentence, Judicial Commissioner Dedar Singh Gill noted that the man, who is now on antidepressants, had killed his “very young and totally defenceless daughter” in what he called a “tragic case.”
The judge considered factors such as the psychiatrist’s opinion that the man requires at least two years of continuous psychiatric treatment to stabilise his condition and that he may need long-term monitoring and follow-up checks.
“The mind of the accused will be imprisoned for the rest of his life with the knowledge that he was responsible for the death of his daughter,” the judge added.
Girl was in 'good spirits'
The man had married in 2015. His wife initiated divorce proceedings in November 2018 and their divorce was finalised in October last year.
Mother and daughter moved out in January last year, and he was granted access to his daughter every alternate weekend. During that time, the girl would stay with him in the matrimonial flat.
The interim judgement of divorce was issued just four days before the killing.
On the Father’s Day weekend in June last year, both parents took the girl to a preschool parents’ conference.
As the girl’s mother was about to leave, the girl began crying as she wanted to be with her mother. Her mother consoled her and she calmed down before they left the preschool.
The father then spotted a man waiting beside a Mercedes car. He believed that the other man was his wife’s new boyfriend as he thought he had seen the same car on her Instagram account before.
The next day on June 16, 2019, the accused, his father and daughter attended a Father’s Day event at Kallang Wave Mall and had lunch at his father's flat.
They also attended Mass at a nearby church before returning home at about 7.40pm. Closed-circuit television footage captured the girl “in good spirits” then, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Gabriel Choong told the court.
At home, the man watched his daughter and replayed the previous day’s events. He wondered why his wife had found a new boyfriend despite their divorce not being finalised yet, and why he himself could not have more privileges and access to his daughter.
He also thought about the prospect of his daughter being introduced to the wife's new boyfriend, and losing kinship with his daughter.
While the girl slept in the master bedroom, he took two knives from the kitchen, sat next to her and slashed his neck.
After his suicide attempt proved unsuccessful, he decided to kill his daughter as he wanted to take her with him in death and did not want to lose her, DPP Choong said.
He pressed his hands on her face, and when she woke up and began struggling, he pressed a pillow “with full force” over her face.
When she stopped moving, he stabbed his own neck two more times and fell unconscious.
His wife grew concerned when he did not return their daughter to her at the stipulated time of 9pm, so she went over to the flat with her mother and the man’s father.
She got more concerned when he did not pick up her calls and found that the locks to their flat had been changed.
She then called the police, saying that she suspected her husband had gone out and left the girl alone in the flat.
Police officers and a locksmith soon arrived. After opening the door, they found the girl lying motionless on the bed, and the father lying on the ground in a pool of blood with cuts on his neck and bloodstained knives next to his head.
Father and daughter were taken to Sengkang General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. He was later taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
‘Tender and loving relationship' with daughter
DPP Choong sought a sentence of seven years’ jail, stressing that the man had intentionally taken a life and knew the nature of his acts was wrong.
However, he acknowledged that it was not a premeditated killing, adding that it was “as tragic a case as it is cruel,” as the man had betrayed his daughter’s trust in the “worst possible manner.”
“He loved her but ultimately did not act out of love. He acted selfishly, wanting to maintain his desired relationship with the deceased. That’s what moved him to take her life,” DPP Choong said.
The man’s defence lawyer, John Tan from Leo Fernando LLC, asked for three years’ jail instead.
He told the court that his client was “always hardworking” and a “dutiful husband and father who did his very best to provide for his family,” despite the marriage eventually breaking down.
He shared a “tender and loving relationship” with the girl, who was the “light and purpose of his life,” and was actively involved in caring for her. He often took them for outings during festive seasons and played with her, he said.
When the marriage broke down, he continued to “care tenderly” for his daughter and his “paternal love never wavered,” Tan said.
The lawyer acknowledged, however, that his client had “fundamentally caused his marriage to break down.”
Dr Phang from IMH said that the man suffered from delusional disorder around the end of 2017, suspecting his wife of cheating on him despite having little evidence of that. This then developed into a major depressive disorder.
He had monitored his wife’s mobile phone and sent emails to her supervisor as well.
He also told Dr Phang that on the evening of the killing, he kept worrying that “things will keep changing”, such as the court orders for access to his daughter. He began asking himself what he did wrong in his marriage and lost the will to live.
“The killing was not premeditated in any way whatsoever. It was only when he stabbed himself in the neck that he decided to kill (the girl) in hopes of reuniting with her in the afterlife,” Tan told the court.
For culpable homicide, the man could have been jailed up to 20 years or for life and fined or caned.— TODAY