Woodlands double murder: Singaporean gets death for killing pregnant wife, four-year-old daughter

Teo Ghim Heng (second from right), who killed his wife and daughter, being escorted back to the crime scene on February 10, 2017. — TODAY pic
Teo Ghim Heng (second from right), who killed his wife and daughter, being escorted back to the crime scene on February 10, 2017. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Nov 13 — A 44-year-old former property agent was given the mandatory death sentence yesterday after he was found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife and four-year-old daughter in their Woodlands flat in 2017.

Teo Ghim Heng admitted to strangling Choong Pei Shan, who was six months pregnant, and their daughter on January 20, 2017. The girl cannot be named as she was a minor.

After killing them, Teo burned their bodies in the bedroom. He claimed that he tried to kill himself by lying next to them on the bed but did not follow through with it because he felt that the blaze was too hot.

The two charred bodies were discovered eight days later on the first day of Chinese New Year. Teo claimed trial to two charges of murder. A third charge of causing the death of his unborn son was withdrawn after yesterday’s conviction.

The main contention was whether Teo suffered from major depressive disorder, which would give rise to a defence of diminished responsibility.

High Court judge Kannan Ramesh rejected this, referring to instances of his behaviour such as sending loving text messages to his wife on the phone and visiting a particular pornographic website 132 times the day before the incident.Far from being depressed,

Teo had exhibited an “uplift in his mood and positivity despite his difficult financial circumstances," the judge said in his brief 29-page decision.

The couple had also decided against aborting their second child in 2016 after seeing a counsellor, which the judge said “shows clear hope and positivity towards the future”.It was a “tragic case” of lives lost and a “family torn asunder.”

Justice Ramesh added.Teo’s lawyers — Eugene Thuraisingam, Suang Wijaya and Johannes Hadi — will be appealing against the conviction and sentence.

They had argued that their client should be convicted of the less serious charge of culpable homicide.

They said that his wife’s humiliation of him in front of their daughter “struck at the very nerve” of his major depressive disorder, contending that he suffered from it from mid-2016 onwards.

The defence’s psychiatrist, Dr Rajesh Jacob, found that while Teo was not of unsound mind at the time of the killings, his mental responsibility for his actions was substantially impaired owing to the depressive disorder, which led to him losing control in response to provocation from his wife.

In contrast, the prosecution’s psychiatrist Derrick Yeo, a consultant psychiatrist from the Institute of Mental Health, said that Teo’s determination to kill the victims showed that he was in control of his actions and that he was not suffering from any mental disorder at the time. 

Dr Yeo also said that the diagnosis was based on Teo’s self-reporting, which was “dishonest and unsupported by evidence”.

Justice Ramesh similarly found a lack of corroborative evidence to show that he suffered from major depressive disorder.

He also rejected the defence of grave and sudden provocation. 

Among his reasons, he found that Teo made a “conscious and deliberate decision” to strangle his wife to death and that he was “in full control of his faculties” during both murders.

In relation to the daughter, the judge said it was inconceivable that Teo could have blamed her for anything that happened that morning. Teo’s lawyers had argued that she was the very subject of the provocation.

Justice Ramesh told the court: “She was not at fault for (Choong’s) behaviour. She was an innocent.

“Indeed, in his oral testimony, Teo stated that when he decided to kill her, his thinking was that he ‘could not leave her alone here where nobody can take care of her’.”

The judge will provide his full grounds of decision soon.

About the case

During the trial, the court heard that Teo, the sole breadwinner of the family, had been a successful property agent before the market declined.

He also lost a lot of money through gambling and owed creditors about S$120,000 (RM366,989).

Teo ended up taking up a job as a sales coordinator, earning S$1,500 a month.

He listed his flat for sale and made plans to sell his car.He and his wife frequently argued about their finances.

Prosecutors also said that Teo never got over Choong’s affair with another man in 2014 and strongly suspected that their daughter was not biologically his.

The morning of the incident, he stopped his daughter from going to school.

Teo had said in a police statement that Choong began scolding him after he told her that he stopped his daughter from going to school because he owed the school two months of fees and it would be “very embarrassing” if she was asked to leave school.

He recounted that the last thing Choong said in Mandarin was: “‘(Child), look at how useless your father is.’”

He became very agitated and said his mind “went blank” upon hearing this.

Teo confessed to strangling his wife with a towel for about 15 minutes before using his hands until she died.

He then strangled his daughter, telling her to “leave first” and that he would join them shortly. He tried to commit suicide by slitting his wrists and later consuming paracetamol pills but failed.

Teo spent about a week with their bodies in their Woodlands flat, keeping the air-conditioning switched on and shutting the windows to slow the decomposition process.

Using his wife’s mobile phone, he posed as her to communicate with her family members and their daughter’s school teachers. He also changed the cover photograph of Choong’s Facebook account to give the impression that she was still alive.

On the eve of Chinese New Year, he lied to family members that Choong had stomach pains and needed to visit the hospital.

The authorities arrested him the next day after her brother went over to their home and sensed something was amiss.

Teo lied to officers at the scene that he had entered into a suicide pact with his wife before admitting in his later statements that he strangled both of the victims to death.

He also showed officers four suicide notes, some of which he had forged to look like his wife wrote them. — TODAY

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