The husband and wife who showed “monstrous cruelty” in “torturing” an intellectually disabled waitress were sentenced to jail today. The waitress they had repeatedly assaulted, 26-year-old Annie Ee Yu Lian, died after eight months of abuse and exploitation that occurred from Aug 2014 until her death on 13 Apr the next year.
33-year-old housewife Tan Hui Zhen was sentenced to 16-and-a-half years’ jail, while her 38-year-old husband Pua Hak Chuan received a sentence of 14 years’ jail and 14 strokes of the cane after they were convicted on Monday of multiple charges of assaulting the young woman who had lived with them.
The late Annie had known Tan since they were both teenagers. Tan, who Annie fondly called “older sister,” invited Annie to come and stay in her home at Block 878, Woodlands Avenue 9 in 2013. Things were initially rosy as Tan and Pua treated Annie with care, allowing her to live in their home rent-free and calling the restaurants where Annie worked to make sure she came home on time.
The couple’s care towards the young woman, who earned $1,200 to $1,500 a month working for various restaurants, would not last.
Tan and Pua began abusing Annie in their home after a bedbug infestation occurred in their flat which they blamed Annie for. Besides beating Annie, Tan began to take the bulk of Annie’s monthly salary, leaving her only $50 for her needs. This amount was later further reduced to $30.
In October 2014, the manager of the restaurant where Annie worked noticed that she was beginning to come in to work with bruises in her arms and face, sometimes with eyes so swollen they were almost closed shut. Although Annie was clearly a victim of obvious physical abuse, she refused to complain about it.
Soon, Annie’s co-workers noticed that the abuse was getting worse. Tan also began to call the restaurant more frequently, demanding bigger cash bonuses for Annie and even berating the manager when Annie had to spend extra time in the restaurant.
Annie eventually suffered from beatings so horrific that she required ear surgery. In February 2015, Annie left her old place of employment and began working at a Japanese restaurant at Causeway Point. Annie reportedly left due to Tan’s urging, so that her co-workers would no longer notice her injuries.
However, Annie continued to suffer severe beatings at home, such as whippings, slaps, kicks to the chest, and head trauma, with both Tan and Pua taking turns hurting her with their bare hands, Tan’s bedroom slippers, a plastic belt, and a bamboo stick. The couple later bought a roll of shrink wrap that weighed 1.05 kg and used it to beat their victim.
Annie never fought back. Meanwhile, her injuries worsened to the point that she had difficulty walking.
The day before Annie tragically died, Pua caught her in an attempt to cut her wrists with a pair of scissors. She explained that she had failed to please Tan before Pua took the scissors away.
That day, Annie urinated on the bed, and when confronted, denied this. Tan and Pua then beat Annie viciously, and even broke a trash can on Annie’s shoulder.
Later that night, Annie reportedly moaned in severe pain and lost control of her bladder, wetting the bed again. Tan and Pua took her blood pressure, which they found to be normal, and then left her alone. By the next day, she was dead.
Tan and Pua removed evidence of Annie’s beatings, and initially reported her death to the police as a suicide, later changing their story to say that she had a bad fall due to her disability.
Official reports showed, however, that Annie’s death was caused by multiple injuries. The autopsy found that she suffered from 12 fractured ribs, 7 fractured vertebrae, and a ruptured stomach. Her body was also crowded with blisters and bruises.
Authorities found that the couple abused Annie in a “deliberate, planned and systematic manner,” meaning that they consciously subjected Annie to feel as much pain as possible. To make matters worse, they neglected to seek medical treatment for Annie in a timely manner. Due to Annie’s intellectual disability, she was unable to adequately defend herself.
Ms Ee had been “pulverised”, Deputy Public Prosecutors April Phang and Claire Poh told the court that Annie had been “pulverised”, having been “tortured” and “stripped of her money, her dignity and her will to live.”
The prosecution also noted the psychological abuse the couple inflicted on Annie by intimidating and taunting her. This played a part in “undermining her sense of self-worth” causing Annie to attempt to kill herself due to “persistent humiliation,” the prosecution argued.
Tan was initially charged with murder but her charges were reduced after a psychiatric report revealed that she was suffering from moderate to severe depression and borderline personality disorder at the time of the offences. Both husband and wife were convicted of reduced charges of causing grievous hurt with a weapon.
The DPPs asked sought 15 years’ jail for Tan and 14 years’ jail and 12 strokes of the cane for Pua, who is believed to have been a henpecked husband. Claiming that he had only been a silent observer and just an accomplice, Pua pleaded for a jail term not longer than 10 years and less than 12 strokes of the cane and told the court:
“I’m afraid of my wife. I did not condone her beating of the deceased, but I did not dare to defy her. Had I not beaten her as instructed by my wife, she would have continued to hit her.”
In sentencing each defendant to a heftier sentence than what was proposed by the prosecution, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng called the case “appalling” and noted that the couple had showed an “utter lack of contrition.” He added:
“Both the accused have abused the victim in an inhumane and cruel demeanour. They fully abused the victim’s trust in them.”
“The victim was a vulnerable victim and of low intelligence. She trusted them and treated them like family. They abused her trust.”
Netizens also severely condemned the couple when news broke of Annie’s horrific death: