K. C. Vijayan – Straits Times Indonesia
Singapore. In a two-page judgment released yesterday, a High Court judge explained why he dealt an Indonesian maid a 10-year jail term for killing her employer, when she could have been jailed closer to 20 years.
Justice Choo Han Teck said he took into account Vitria Wahyuni’s lot — she was poor, harshly treated, young and impulsive.
In his judgment which recounted what the prosecution and defense presented in court, he added that it did not matter that the law had been changed to increase the maximum sentence for her crime to 20 years: “It may be so in the appropriate case, but in my view, I do not think that this case merits a higher sentence.”
Vitria, then 16, had strangled Madam Sng Gek Wah, 87, on Nov. 25, 2009, a mere four days into her job at the woman’s house in Serangoon Gardens.
The Indonesian, who pleaded guilty to culpable homicide, was meted a decade-long jail term on Wednesday by Justice Choo.
The punishment for culpable homicide had been raised to 20 years’ jail or life imprisonment, up from before 2007, when it was 10 years or life.
During the trial, Justice Choo was faced with a tug of war between the prosecution and defense. One side argued that Vitria should pay with a 20-year term; the other called for the judge to look at Vitria’s background, which mitigated the killing and justified only eight to 10 years.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Marie Koh had urged the judge to start with 20 years, on the grounds that Vitria had killed deliberately and “with premeditation, as opposed to a situation in which it was done on the spur of the moment, in ‘hot blood.’”
She further argued that the nature of the injuries inflicted on Madam Sng showed a “cruel streak” on Vitria’s part; she also referred to statements by Madam Sng’s granddaughter, who said that although Madam Sng expected high standards in housekeeping, she always ensured the maids were well-fed.
The dead woman’s daughter also said Madam Sng and Vitria had a good working relationship.
Koh had brought to the judge’s notice the change in the maximum jail term for culpable homicide.
Against all of this which the judge recorded in his grounds, defence lawyer Mohd Muzammil Mohd pointed to Vitria’s dire family circumstances which led to her being sent here to work: Her father had lied and obtained for her a false passport which gave her a false name and declared her to be aged 23.
Vitria was already a mother of one and a divorcee to boot when she came here to work for money to pay for her father’s medical treatment. He died last May of tuberculosis.
Vitria’s lawyer said his client earned $350 a month, all of which went into paying her debts to two maid agencies for her first 8-1/2 months here.
He added that his client, used to a rural life, had come here to an urban environment under great stress — stress which was ramped up by an employer who often scolded and insulted her.
Vitria’s case also turned on three psychiatric reports which showed her to be a girl who led a slow, sheltered life in a poor village and felt unsure of her employer’s expectations.
Tension, resentment and anger led to the killing.
Her relatively lower level of intelligence led her “to choose an inappropriate and tragic solution to her difficulties with her employer,” as did her youth, which made her impulse control and problem-solving skills poor, said the reports.
The psychiatrist added Vitria needed to continue with treatment to stabilise her.
Justice Choo held that Vitria did not deserve a higher sentence than Indonesian maid Siti Aminah, then 15, who was jailed for 10 years for culpable homicide in 2005. That case played out before the law was changed.
Together with another maid Juminem, then 18, Siti killed her employer Esther Ang in 2004, after having been abused over time.
Justice Choo had then found Siti Aminah to be intellectually and psychologically immature and likely to be ‘led along’ by her accomplice Juminem.
The Public Prosecutor has until March 21 to decide whether to file an appeal against the judgement.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.