SINGAPORE, Nov 20 — A psychiatrist tasked to evaluate the mental health of a woman, who stands accused of murdering her five-year-old son, told the High Court yesterday that he believed she was fully in control of her actions despite suffering from a depressive disorder.
Her lawyer, however, argued that the psychiatrist, Dr Kenneth Koh, had not spent enough time interviewing Azlin Arujunah, did not fully understand her life and that she was under a great amount of grief and stress in the months leading up to the boy's death. Her son cannot be named to protect the identity of his surviving siblings.
Azlin and her husband Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, both 27, face multiple charges of ill-treating and assaulting the child in their one-room rental flat and of committing murder with common intention. The boy died from severe injuries on October 23, 2016 after being scalded with hot water.
As a teary Azlin looked on, her lawyer Thangavelu, who goes by one name, told a packed courtroom that in the months leading up to the boy’s death, Azlin’s grandmother and her mother both died, while her abusive husband left her on her own to take care of four children with little money.
Dr Koh told the court that she was also suffering from methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms, as she had run low on her supply of the drug, which she was consuming to cope with all the stress.
Disorder had no impact on social functioning
Dr Koh, a psychiatrist with the Institute of Mental Health, was first examined on the stand by Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Tan Wen Hsien.
In response to her questions, he said that he agreed with an earlier assessment made by another psychiatrist, Dr Jaydip Sarkar, that Azlin was suffering from adjustment disorder with depressed mood in the period leading up to the offence.
Dr Sarkar was unable to appear in court as he has left Singapore.
The disorder essentially refers to an inability to cope with certain external stressors, but it would not have diminished Azlin’s mental reasonability by a “substantial degree,” Dr Koh said.
Dr Koh added that he did not believe Azlin’s adjustment disorder was severe, and said it was “mild or moderate at best”.
This meant that her disorder had no impact on her social functioning, he said, pointing out that she was still able to take care of the household and even seek enjoyment in watching television.
Furthermore, he added, she did not attack her other children, which “shows she has a large amount of restrain.”
‘Complex sequence of offences’
Her assaults on her son were not done on impulse, Dr Koh said. Instead, her actions were a “complex sequence of offences” meant to punish the child.
“She needs to decide she wants to scald the child. Get up, go to the (vacuum) flask and get a cup with a handle,” he said. “Not just any cup, she had to take a cup that she will not end up scalding herself with.
“Then, she had to dispense the hot water (and) go back to the child and inflict injuries on (him).”
The court heard last week that Azlin and Ridzuan had thrown hot water on the child, which they said was to discipline him. It is the prosecution’s case that the temperature of the water would have been between 86.5°C and 98.7°C, causing immediate burns.
Dr Koh said that Azlin's adjustment disorder would not have impaired her ability to “understand the events.”
“She was quite well aware of the rightfulness and wrongfulness of her actions,” he said.
Dr Koh added that Azlin had told him during her psychiatric evaluation that she was “becoming quite agitated” in the days before her son’s death, because she was no longer able to buy methamphetamine from her usual dealer and was running low on supplies.
Her parents splashed hot water on her
Taking his turn to cross-examine Dr Koh, Mr Thangavelu asked if Azlin had started smoking methamphetamine to cope with the death of her grandmother in March 2016. Dr Koh affirmed that she had.
Thangavelu told the court that Azlin’s grandmother was the only one to have shown any compassion and concern towards her, and that Azlin was close to her grandmother, who had raised her after she stopped living with her abusive parents.
“The loss of her grandmother, who called (Azlin) every day and showed care for her, was one of the greatest losses for (Azlin),” Thangavelu said. “When she passed away, (Azlin) had no one to turn to.”
Thangavelu said that his client struggled with housework, managing her children, the loneliness that followed the bereavement of her two relatives and financial stress.
He noted that neither Azlin nor her husband were working, and their only source of money was the S$700 (RM2,136) given to them each month by the Community Development Council.
This was sometimes supplemented by the amulets, love potions and old currencies which Ridzuan was able to sell on e-marketplace Carousell, he added.
Furthermore, Thangavelu said that Ridzuan was “emotionally absent,” had an affair and was abusive. On one occasion, he even kicked his wife in the belly when she was pregnant.
The court also heard that the relationship between Azlin and her mother was on the mend, but the older woman died on the first day of Hari Raya on July 6 in 2016.
“All of these are not significant stressors?” Thangavelu asked.
Dr Koh agreed that they were.
Reading a statement from Azlin, Thangavelu quoted: “My whole life is filled with violence I myself was a victim of hot-water splashing by my parents. I kept it all inside me ... when (my son misbehaved), I let it all out.”
As Mr Thangavelu continued his line of questioning and read out more statements from his client, Azlin started to tear in the docks.
Ridzuan, who was seated next to her, looked on at the proceedings impassively.
‘You don't understand my client'
Thangavelu argued that Dr Koh did not fully understand his client because the psychiatrist had spent less than two hours in total interviewing her.
In comparison, Dr Sarkar had four sessions with her, while another psychiatrist, Dr Jacob Rajesh, spent four days interviewing her, he said.
Under questioning from Thangavelu, Dr Koh said that he had not been given Azlin’s statements about what she had been going through.
DPP Tan objected to Thangavelu’s line of questioning, but he argued that it was necessary to establish how significant these “stressors” were in impairing his client’s social functioning.
“(Dr Koh) did not have the benefit of the statements of what she went through, of every aspect of her life,” he said. “If he wants to come to his diagnosis ... this is still important.”
Speaking directly to Dr Koh, the lawyer said: “If the statements were made available to you, and you spent more time (with her), you would have better understood Azlin.”
The trial continues today. — TODAY