Life in jail for Singaporean man with schizophrenia who killed older sister by stamping on her chest

Raja Vinayagar pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court to one count of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. ― TODAY file pic
Raja Vinayagar pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court to one count of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. ― TODAY file pic

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SINGAPORE, Sept 15 — Having occasionally acted violently towards members of his family, Raja Vinayagar fatally attacked his oldest sister at the lift lobby outside their flat one day, stamping on her chest so hard that he fractured her spine and several ribs.

The 50-year-old Singaporean was sentenced in the High Court to life imprisonment yesterday (September 14) after pleading guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Prosecutors had sought this penalty, noting that he satisfied the criteria of a mentally unstable offender who poses a serious danger to the public for an indeterminate time and who needs to be incarcerated for life for public protection.

Vinayagar has suffered from schizophrenia since 1987, receiving an exemption from National Service and remaining unemployed since age 25.

He was repeatedly admitted to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) over the years, mostly for wilfully not taking his medication and being violent to his mother and sisters. His last admission was from November 2015 to March 2016, when his family had to call the police as they could not manage him.

About a week before the killing on August 23, 2019, he behaved aggressively towards his then 85-year-old mother and pushed her, but she did not retaliate as she feared his physical stature.

In the early morning of that fateful day, he grabbed his mother’s hand forcefully.

His oldest sister Gayathiri Palaniappan, then 66, saw this and defused the situation by taking her out of the flat. The two women then sat at an open area for several hours until Gayathiri bought some drinks and went back home to give them to Vinayagar.

He soon went downstairs to look for their mother before going back up.

He then suddenly threw the drinks to the ground, hit Gayathiri forcefully in the face and pushed her to the ground. She lost consciousness and he forcefully stamped on her upper body at least five times in quick succession.

Their family friend, then 91, saw this and became frightened, fleeing down the stairs. She called the other sister, who called Vinayagar on the home phone.

He told her that Gayathiri was lying in the room and that she had gotten a beating.

The other woman eventually returned to the flat after calling the police. After officers and paramedics arrived at the scene, Vinayagar had moved Gayathiri into a bedroom to conceal what he had done.

He knew that she needed urgent medical attention due to her pre-existing condition. She had been treated for pulmonary tuberculosis in her 30s, but suffered from progressive bronchiectasis from 2013 with recurrent episodes.

This is a lung condition that leads to sufferers coughing up mucus, being short of breath and coughing up blood.

However, Vinayagar had not called an ambulance. He then lied to police officers that she had collapsed in her bedroom after returning home panting, and that she was having an asthma attack.

The paramedics noticed blood around her head but did not suspect anything untoward, being focused on trying to resuscitate her.

They were unsuccessful and she was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Vinayagar was arrested three days after the killing.

An autopsy showed that her cause of death was haemorrhage due to blunt force trauma to her chest.

Dr Cheow Enquan from IMH found that while Vinayagar was suffering a relapse of his schizophrenia at the time, and his psychotic symptoms had likely substantially influenced his actions, he was not of unsound mind and was fit to plead in court.

The psychiatrist also stated that Vinayagar requires long-term, probably lifelong, treatment and seemed to be at high risk of future relapses.

He had also relapsed despite being given his regular slow-release antipsychotic injection, after rejecting oral medicine while in remand.

“The accused’s schizophrenia increases the risk of violence he poses to those around him, especially when he is in relapse. While he is not the most dangerously violent, he poses a substantial danger to others when he is in relapse,” Dr Cheow added.

During his last admission in IMH, Vinayagar denied any psychotic symptoms or being violent at home or hitting his mother.

Those convicted of culpable homicide can be jailed for life or up to 20 years, as well as caned. Offenders aged 50 or above cannot be caned under Singapore law. ― TODAY

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