7 September 2005: Filipino domestic worker Guen
Garlejo Aguilar killed another Filipino domestic worker, Jane
Parangan La Puebla, over a sum of S$2,000 that La Puebla owed her.
She hid La Puebla's body in her room for two
days before dismembering it and dumping the body parts near
Orchard MRT Station and MacRitchie Reservoir. The court found her
guilty of manslaughter and sentenced her to 10 years imprisonment
in May 2006.
Filipino maid Guen Garlejo Aguilar strangled
best friend over $2,000
The Straits Times
They were the best of friends, until a dispute over money led to
one maid killing another, then gruesomely disposing the body in
It was on 1.45pm on Friday, Sept 9, 2005, that 41-year-cleaner
Maria Yee Marutham found a blue and red oblong sports bag lying at
a corner of the mosaic wall near the Orchard MRT station exit.
When she unzipped it, she saw a woman’s face.
It was part of a severed head which had been put into a red
plastic bag. There were also two other black trash bags.
They contained arms, which had been severed above the elbow, and
At 6.10pm, it was civil servant Alvin Lim Seng Leong’s turn to
make a grisly find. He was walking to a bus stop on Lornie Road,
when he cut in front of the MacRitchie Reservoir canteen and found
a black trolley bag. The police were called.
In the bag was the rest of the dead woman’s body.
In the space of 12 hours, police had a suspect in custody —
29-year-old Filipino maid Guen Garlejo Aguilar. Married with two
young sons, she was arrested at her employer’s eighth-floor
apartment at the SunGlade condominium at Serangoon Avenue 2. An
18cm cleaver in a red plastic bag was also taken from the flat,
where the murder was believed to have taken place.
The victim was her best friend, who also worked as a maid. Her
name was Mrs Jane Parangan La Puebla. She was 26, and also married
and a mother of a nine-year-old boy. Police had identified her
from the fingerprints lifted from the hands found
in the sports bag.
By the next day, Aguilar was charged with murder. The big question
was why did she kill a woman who was described as being a “sister”
to her. Speculation centered around the possibility of a love
The pair had often been seen at the popular maid hangout next to
Orchard MRT station with a local Indian man. The “tall and
handsome” man was seeing Aguilar, but the rumours were that the
victim was also vying for his affections.
But the truth was far more simple. The reason for the killing was
a dispute over money.
Two days before Mrs La Puebla’s remains were found, she and
Aguilar were cooking in the kitchen of the condo where the latter
worked. They had been chatting about their problems when she
mentioned a $2,000 debt Mrs La Puebla owed her.
Half the money came from a third Filipino, who borrowed it from a
Singaporean loanshark and was charging Aguilar an interest of 20
per cent. Mrs La Puebla became agitated and raised her voice when
Aguilar suggested that she sell her video and digital cameras to
pay off the debt.
Aguilar tried to calm her down, but when she mentioned selling the
cameras again, they began to fight. They wrestled, pulling each
other’s hair and grabbing each other’s necks. Aguilar also bit her
friend on the right forearm.
The struggle spilled into the laundry area and into the bedroom,
and left Mrs La Puebla’s blood on the floor, mattress and walls.
According to Aguilar, she grabbed a cushion from her bed and used
it to smother her friend.
After a few seconds, she removed the pillow and started to cry
because she thought her friend was dead. Nevertheless, when Mrs La
Puebla started moving again, Aguilar strangled her until she
For the next two days, unbeknownst to her employers, she hid the
body in her room, inside a luggage bag. Then on Sept 9, after her
employers went to work, she went to Mustafa Shopping Centre in
Little India and bought a chopper, an axe and black rubbish bags.
She also bought a pair of canvas gloves and another pair made of
latex — to wear while dismembering the body, a bolster, two
pillowcases and a bedsheet to replace blood-stained bedlinen, and
even green wallpaper matching the one used in her employers’ flat.
When she reached the flat some time after 9.30am, she dismembered
the body and placed Mrs La Puebla’s head, arms and legs in
separate plastic bags, then wrapped them in rubbish bags. She
stuffed the body parts and some newspapers into a travel bag.
The torso, clad in brown underwear, was wrapped in newspapers and
a black rubbish bag.
This done, she scrubbed the blood traces with water and detergent
and used the wall paper to cover up the stains which could not be
At about midday, she brought the bag containing Mrs La Puebla’s
head and limbs, and took a taxi to Orchard Road. She dumped the
bag next to a mural wall at the Orchard MRT Station at about
12.35pm, a stone’s throw from the park where the
friends used to meet every Sunday.
Aguilar returned to the flat at 1.25pm. Half an hour later, she
put the bag with the torso into a bigger piece of luggage bag and
took a taxi to MacRitchie Reservoir. Near the bus stop along
Lornie Road, she took the smaller bag out and left it next to the
Inside the bag was an International Herald Tribune newspaper with
a sticker on the front page bearing the name and address of
Aguilar’s employers. That led police straight to her.
A ‘tortured mind’
Before her trial began in May 2006, the charges against Aguilar
were reduced to manslaughter. This was after defence lawyers had
written to the Attorney-General’s Chambers to get the charge
reduced on the grounds that the death resulted from grave and
sudden provocation, and because Aguilar suffered from a
psychiatric condition, later revealed to be depression.
She pleaded guilty.
The court could have sent her to prison for life, but sentenced
her to 10 years in jail.
The judge, Justice V.K. Rajah, noted that Aguilar appeared to have
recovered from her depression, which was compounded by financial
woes, and that family support and counselling would “further
diminish any risk of future offences”.
While he described her conduct in dismembering Mrs La Puebla’s
body as “grotesque and abominable”, he said Aguilar was hardly
trying to conceal her victim’s death.
“By choosing to plant the deceased’s head and torso in two very
public places, her behaviour strikes one as nothing short of
incoherent and incomprehensible,” he said. Instead, it showed the
workings of “a tortured mind”.
Filipina maid jailed for grisly killing
May 29, 2006
A Filipina maid who pleaded guilty to murdering a compatriot and
then chopping up her body was sentenced to 10 years in jail by
Singapore's high court on Monday, May 29.
Guen Garlejo Aguilar, 29, was accused of murdering 26-year-old
Jane Parangan La Puebla, a fellow Filipina domestic worker, in
September and then dumping parts of her dismembered body at
several locations around the city-state.
Aguilar narrowly escaped the gallows last month when the court
reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter, after Aguilar's
lawyers said she was found to be mentally unsound and had killed
La Puebla because of a money dispute.
"Her illness did not in any way dispossess her of that ability to
distinguish between right and wrong," said High Court Judge V.K.
"Upon taking all the relevant circumstances, I determine that the
appropriate sentence for the accused is a term of imprisonment of
Aguilar, wearing an orange prison suit, was expressionless when
the sentence was read out. Her husband and sister were in the
court along with Philippine embassy officials and the mayor of her
"We are happy with the sentencing. Earlier there were some
concerns that she might get a life sentence, so this is a huge
relief for Guen,"
Aguilar's lawyer Sashi Nathan told reporters.
La Puebla's head and limbs were found stashed inside a sports bag
behind a subway station on Singapore's Orchard Road, home to
luxury boutiques and large department stores. Hours later, the
torso of a woman dressed only in underwear was found in a trolley
bag at one of the country's popular nature parks.
Grisly murders are rare in Singapore, which has one of the world's
lowest crime rates and some of its toughest laws, and penalties
that include caning and death by hanging.
Aguilar's case echoes that of Filipina maid Flor Contemplacion who
was hanged at Singapore's Changi Prison in 1995 for the murder of
fellow Filipina Delia Maga and her 4-year-old Singaporean son.
Contemplacion's execution sparked a bitter diplomatic rift between
Manila and Singapore, with Filipinos protesting in both countries
and blaming their governments for not doing enough to prevent the
abuse and stress that many Filipina maids suffer.
About 150,000 women -- mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines and
Sri Lanka -- work as maids in Singapore, with roughly one in every
seven households employing a live-in domestic helper so that
couples can work and raise families.
Public Prosecutor v Aguilar Guen Garlejo
 3 SLR 247;  SGHC 94
Criminal Procedure and Sentencing
29 May 2006
V K Rajah J:
1 On 9 September 2005 at about 12.45pm, a
street cleaner made a grotesque discovery next to the Orchard Road
Mass Rapid Transit (“MRT”) station. He found a severed human head
in a bag. This was to set in motion a series of revelations that
captured the nation’s attention for the next few days. The press
and the public alike were consumed by a sense of revulsion as it
appeared that an appalling crime had been committed. Why would
anyone in his or her right frame of mind commit such an abominable
The factual matrix
2 The police arrived at the scene at about
1.53pm and promptly cordoned off the place. The bag was examined
and found to contain pages from The Straits Times dated 8
September 2005 and two black garbage bags. Inside the garbage bags
were more red plastic bags containing a pair of severed arms and
legs. The torso was missing. A right thumbprint from one of the
hands was obtained and upon screening was ascertained to be that
of Jane Parangan La Puebla (“the deceased”).
3 A check with the deceased’s employer revealed
that a missing person’s report had been made on 8 September 2005.
The report asserted that she had been missing since 7 September
4 Later on 9 September 2005 at around 6.10pm,
the police received a call about an unattended “World Polo”
suitcase swarming with flies that had been found at MacRitchie
Reservoir. The suitcase was lying on a grass verge near the
footpath at the reservoir just metres away from Lornie Road. The
police unzipped the bag and found a torso crudely wrapped up in
some garbage bags. The head and limbs were missing. The torso had
feminine attributes and was only clad in a brown bra and panties.
The bag contained pages from the 6, 7 and 8 September issues of
The Straits Times. There was also a copy of the International
Herald Tribune on which was affixed the label: “Mr Prakash Mallya
#08-23 Sunglade 9 Serangoon Ave 2”.
5 Police officers immediately proceeded to the
apartment whose address was on the label (“the Sunglade
apartment”) that was occupied by Mr Prakash Mallya and his wife,
Anjali Mallya. Guen Garlejo Aguilar (“the accused”), their
domestic assistant, was also present in the Sunglade apartment.
The police interviewed the accused. She admitted knowing the
deceased but denied any knowledge of her whereabouts.
6 A search of the accused’s room was also
conducted in the presence of her employers. There were blood
stains on the underside of her mattress and on the floor below her
bed. Inside a rubbish bin just outside the accused’s room, police
found sheared pieces of the deceased’s work permit and a “World
Polo” card tag that came from the suitcase found at MacRitchie
Reservoir. Inside a kitchen cabinet under the kitchen sink, the
officers also found an opened packet of red plastic bags, a
chopper and an axe. The Mallyas confirmed that the chopper and the
axe did not belong to them. Nor had they seen those items
7 In the wee hours of the morning of 10
September 2005 at about 12.40am, the accused was placed under
arrest for the murder of the deceased.
8 The accused’s first statement was recorded on
the same day. In it, she denied any knowledge of Jane’s death.
According to her, the deceased was still alive when she left the
Sunglade apartment. However, in a second statement recorded on 13
September 2005, the accused admitted having had a fight with the
deceased that culminated in her demise.
The fight and the dismemberment
9 Investigations revealed that the accused and
the deceased met sometime in March of 2005 at Orchard Road. They
soon became firm friends and met each other regularly. By all
accounts they had a close friendship until just before the
10 At 12.35pm on 7 September 2005, the deceased
visited the accused at the Sunglade apartment where a bitter
argument ensued between them. This soon escalated into an exchange
11 The fight started in the accused’s room and
subsequently spilled into the laundry area. As a result of the
fight, both the women were injured. In the midst of their
struggle, the accused grabbed the deceased’s neck tightly with her
right hand. The agreed statement of facts describes the ensuing
She then took a cushion with her left hand and
smothered the deceased’s face. After sensing that the deceased was
not moving, the accused removed the cushion. At this point the
deceased began to move both her hands. The accused then used both
her hands and strangled the deceased until the deceased stopped
12 The accused then placed the body inside a
large “Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club” luggage bag to conceal
it. She later attempted to remove all traces of the deceased’s
presence in the Sunglade apartment by cleaning up the bloodstains.
She also removed the deceased’s personal effects and her work
permit from the body.
13 The accused claims that she was in a daze
after the incident. She was unable to recall precisely what
transpired over the next two days. Two days later, on the morning
of 9 September 2005, the accused took a train to Farrer Park MRT
station after which she proceeded to the Mohamed Mustafa Shopping
Centre. There, she purchased a chopper, an axe, a pair of canvas
gloves, a pair of latex gloves, green wallpaper, a bottle of
Breeze detergent, a bolster, two pillowcases, a bed sheet and a
packet of black garbage bags.
14 The accused then headed back to the Sunglade
apartment where she systematically dismembered the deceased’s body
and placed the body parts into a bag and a suitcase. The accused
asserts all this was done while she was in a state of
bewilderment. Her mind was still numb and whirling with shock that
she had killed her best friend.
15 With the use of the recently purchased
cleaning equipment, she cleaned up the flat taking pains to ensure
that no traces of blood were left. She then used the green
wallpaper to cover up parts of the walls just above her bed. The
accused also turned over the mattress and covered it with the new
bed sheet. She later changed the pillowcase and threw away the
blanket that was on the bed, washed and cleaned the chopper and
axe, and placed them in the kitchen cabinet underneath the kitchen
sink. Finally, she threw away the gloves and the cushion used to
smother the deceased.
16 On the following day, she took a taxi to
Orchard Road and placed the bag containing the deceased’s head
near the Orchard Road MRT station. Later she proceeded to
MacRitchie Reservoir where she placed the suitcase near a public
footpath within clear view, making no effort to conceal it. The
accused cannot explain why she did this.
The accused’s injuries
17 The following injuries were noted on the
accused when she was examined on 10 September 2005 at 10.33am by
Dr Ian Jay Basiao Tan of Alexandra Hospital:
(a) abrasions on the right shoulder, left leg,
and nape; and
(b) haematomas on the right forearm, left lower
leg, left back and right forearm.
Dr Wee Keng Poh’s autopsy report
18 Dr Wee Keng Poh (“Dr Wee”) performed an
autopsy on the deceased. Other than the marks sustained as a
result of the dismemberment, the following ante-mortem injuries
(a) Head and neck – two large bruises, a
haematoma with bruise, a laceration with surrounding bruise;
(b) Left upper limb – a large bruise over the
(c) Left lower limb – several bruises of
varying sizes over the ankle, shin, knee and thigh;
(d) Right upper limb – three superficial cuts
extending as superficial linear abrasions roughly parallel to each
other, a human bite mark with impressions of seven teeth over the
(e) Right lower limb – several bruises over the
ankle, knee and shin, a cut on the knee and on the back of the
heel, abrasions on the forefoot and leg.
19 Dr Wee filed a report on the cause of death
on 6 December 2005. Based on the DNA profiling of all the body
parts and the fact that the skin tone was the same, he concluded
that all the body parts belonged to the deceased.
20 Dr Wee stated that a toxicological analysis
of the blood and urine samples did not reveal any poisons. Due to
the multitude of superficial ante-mortem
external injuries, he concluded that there was a struggle prior to
her death. He declined to exclude the possibility of the deceased
having been smothered. Nor did he rule out that death could have
resulted from the altercation or from dismemberment.
21 Dr Wee confirmed in the course of the
hearing that the deceased sustained substantially more injuries
over a greater area of her body as compared with the accused.
22 The accused, who is now 30 years old, is a
citizen of the Philippines who lives in the municipality of
Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. In late 2001, she left her husband and two
sons to seek employment in Singapore in order to supplement the
family’s meagre income.
23 The accused and the deceased became close
friends soon after they met. The accused confided in the deceased
that she was in the throes of domestic strife. She sorely missed
her children. The relationship with her husband, Edwin, was also
on the rocks.
24 The deceased had in the context of their
close kinship solicited money from the accused claiming that she
urgently needed to remit the money back home. The accused
repeatedly obliged. Over time, the deceased borrowed a total of
$2,000 from or through the accused. Half of this came from the
accused’s own savings. The remainder was procured through another
Filipino friend, Jenny Narag (“Jenny”). Jenny had in turn borrowed
the money on the accused’s behalf from a loan shark. The accused
had to pay monthly interest at the rate of 20% on this loan. The
accused became increasingly agitated about the overdue loan and
began to feel intense pressure over the urgency and overwhelming
need to settle the outstanding amount. The deceased, on the other
hand, adopted an entirely cavalier attitude about settling her
financial obligation. In the context of her own prevailing family
troubles and financial difficulties, such insouciance on the part
of the deceased severely distressed the accused. She succumbed to
25 On 7 September 2005, the deceased visited
the accused at the Sunglade apartment. The two women soon started
arguing about their differences. This angry exchange soon
escalated into a physical confrontation. They wrestled, pulled
each other’s hair and then grabbed each other’s necks. The accused
held onto the deceased’s neck while trying at the same time to
force the deceased to release her. In the course of the struggle,
she managed to grab a pillow lying on the bed and started to
smother the deceased with it. When the deceased stopped moving,
the accused removed the pillow and started sobbing – she thought
the deceased had died.
26 Suddenly the deceased started moving again
and the accused instinctively started to strangle her again. After
a while the deceased ceased struggling.
27 The Defence contends that there are certain
crucial considerations that should form part of the sentencing
assessment. Firstly, the accused had no pre-conceived intention of
getting into a fight, let alone of killing the deceased. There was
no premeditation. Secondly, she had pleaded guilty to the charge
under s 304(a) of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed) at the
earliest opportunity. By not prolonging the proceedings, she has
saved the court’s time and resources. Thirdly, she cooperated with
the investigation team and did not attempt to flee. Fourthly, she
has no antecedents. Finally, the incident had its genesis in a
mental abnormality that had transiently afflicted the accused.
Objective medical evidence confirmed that the risk of recidivism
was low. I should immediately observe that the second and third
contentions are of tangential significance at best; given that the
objective evidence proffered against the accused is nothing short
of overwhelming and that she was apprehended very quickly as a
result of the admirable pace of the police investigations.
28 The accused was remanded at Changi Women’s
Prison for psychiatric assessment. Her assessor was Dr Tommy Tan
(“Dr Tan”), a consultant at the Institute for Mental Health.
According to Dr Tan:
When I examined Guen, she was polite and
cooperative. She was appropriate in her behaviour. However she was
inappropriately cheerful when I examined her on 26/09/05. Although
she appeared cheerful initially during the subsequent
examinations, she became tearful with a depressed affect when she
described about her relationship with the deceased, the money she
had to borrow to help the deceased and about the alleged offence.
[emphasis in original]
29 When Dr Tan discussed with the accused her
money problems, he observed:
Guen said that she began to feel very sad. She
started having difficulty sleeping at night as she would be
thinking. She slept more and ate more as she said that she would
not have to think. She gained about 5 kg in weight in the recent
months. She had difficulty concentrating on her work especially
“when people called me regarding this matter”. She said that she
felt worse each time the loan shark called her. She said that the
loan shark had threatened to take away her work permit, go to her
employer’s home and tell her employer.
She said that she felt very stressed as this is
[the] only problem she faced in Singapore. She said that she felt
sad when she was asked for money. She said that she had not been
sending money home for a few months because of this problem.
Guen said that she could not tell her employers
about her problem, as they have been good to her. She is very
worried about what would happen to her children.
While in remand, she said she woke up very
early in the morning and slept in the daytime. She denied that she
had suicidal thoughts.
30 Dr Tan concluded that the accused was
suffering from masked depression, which is a moderate major
depressive disorder (single episode). It is his opinion that the
accused was suffering from an abnormality of the mind caused by
her mental disorder that substantially impaired her mental
responsibility at the time of the offence. This would allow her to
plead the defence of diminished responsibility. It appears that Dr
Tan’s carefully considered opinion has saved the accused from the
prospect of having to confront a capital charge.
31 This medical term is explained in the Oxford
Textbook of Psychiatry (Oxford University Press, 3rd Ed, 1996) at
The term ‘masked depression’ is sometimes used
for cases where depressive mode is not conspicuous. Although there
is no reason to think that these cases form a separate syndrome,
the term is useful in drawing attention to a mode of presentation
that is easily missed.
32 In short, the term embraces cases where the
subject unconsciously conceals the symptoms that usually
characterise the underlying depression – in this case, it was not
apparent to those in contact with her that the accused was
suffering from a single episode of a moderate major depressive
Moderate major depressive disorder (single
33 According to The ICD-10 Classification of
Mental and Behavioural Disorders: Clinical descriptions and
diagnostic guidelines (World Health Organization, 1992) (“ICD-10”)
at pp 119 and 121, a person in depression:
… usually suffers from depressed mood, loss of
interest and enjoyment, and reduced energy leading to increased
fatiguability and diminished activity. Marked tiredness after only
slight effort is common. Other common symptoms are:
(a) reduced concentration and attention;
(b) reduced self-esteem and self-confidence;
(c) ideas of guilt and unworthiness (even in a
mild type of episode);
(d) bleak and pessimistic views of the future;
(e) ideas or acts of self-harm or suicide;
(f) disturbed sleep;
(g) diminished appetite.
Differentiation between mild, moderate, and
severe depressive episodes rests upon a complicated clinical
judgement that involves the number, type, and severity of symptoms
present. The extent of ordinary social and work activities is
often a useful general guide to the likely degree of severity of
the episode, but individual, social, and cultural influences that
disrupt a smooth relationship between severity of symptoms and
social performance are sufficiently common and powerful to make it
unwise to include social performance amongst the essential
criteria of severity.
34 At p 121 of ICD-10, mild depressive episodes
are described as follows:
Depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment,
and increased fatiguability are usually regarded as the most
typical symptoms of depression, and at least two of these, plus at
least two of the other symptoms described [above] should usually
be present for a definite diagnosis. None of the symptoms should
be present to an intense degree. Minimum duration of the whole
episode is about 2 weeks.
35 Moderate depressive episodes are treated at
as follows (at p 122):
At least two of the three most typical symptoms
noted for mild depressive episode [above] should be present, plus
at least three (and preferably four) of the other symptoms.
Several symptoms are likely to be present to a marked degree, but
this is not essential if a particularly wide variety of symptoms
is present overall. …
An individual with a moderately severe episode
will usually have considerable difficulty in continuing with
social, work or domestic activities.
36 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 4th Ed, 1994)
(“DSM-IV”) furnishes an in-depth description of the symptoms in a
major depressive episode. In addition to the discussion in the
ICD-10, the DSM-IV observes at pp 321‑322:
Appetite is usually reduced, and many
individuals feel that they have to force themselves to eat. Other
individuals, particularly those encountered in ambulatory
settings, many have increased appetite and may crave specific
foods (e.g., sweets or other carbohydrates). When appetite changes
are severe (in either direction), there may be a significant loss
or gain in weight, …
The most common sleep disturbance associated
with a Major Depressive Episode is insomnia … Individuals
typically have middle insomnia (i.e., waking up during the night
and having difficulty returning to sleep) or terminal insomnia
(i.e., waking too early and being unable to return to sleep).
Initial insomnia (i.e., difficulty falling asleep) may also occur.
Less frequently, individuals present with oversleeping (hypersomnia)
in the form of prolonged sleep episodes at night or increased
daytime sleep. …
Many individuals report impaired ability to
think, concentrate, or make decisions … They may appear easily
distracted or complain of memory difficulties.
Dr Tan’s testimony
37 Dr Tan testified as a prosecution witness.
He was emphatic in concluding that the accused was labouring at
the material time from masked depression or a single episode of
moderate major depression. He took pains to explain that in a
single episode, there is a clear and distinct start and end to the
depression. Dr Tan was unequivocal in his perception that the
depression probably started soon after the loan problems surfaced
and lasted for a couple of weeks.
38 Taking into consideration the case history
and the accused’s background, he concluded that the accused has a
low risk of recidivism. He relied on the following positive
(a) the accused is female and therefore has a
lesser tendency towards violence;
(b) she has no prior psychiatric problems;
(c) she has no criminal antecedents;
(d) she appears to be of good character; and
(e) the presence of a strong family support
network if and when she is reunited with her family.
39 Dr Tan did, however, indicate that there was
one negative factor – the bizarre manner in which the body was
disposed (ie, the dismemberment). He was quick to add that,
notwithstanding, this probably went towards the accused’s state of
mind after rather than at the time of the offence.
40 The accused pleaded guilty on 18 May 2006 to
the following charge:
Guen Garlejo Aguilar (F/30 Years)
FIN No: G 7383779 R
are charged that you, on or about the 7th of
September 2005, at or about 12.35 p.m., at Block 9 #08-23
Serangoon Avenue 2, Sunglade, Singapore, did cause the death of
one Jane Parangan La Puebla, female aged 27 years, by strangling
the said Jane Parangan La Puebla on the neck with both your hands,
with the intention of causing her death, and you have thereby
committed an offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder
punishable under section 304(a) of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.
41 There are broadly speaking three sentencing
options for culpable homicide not amounting to murder pursuant to
s 304(a) of the Penal Code (excluding caning and/or a fine). These
sentencing options in order of decreasing severity are: life
imprisonment, ten years’ imprisonment or a term below ten years.
42 Given the heinous nature of the offence, I
must begin by considering whether a term of life imprisonment is
appropriate. In PP v Chee Cheong Hin Constance  SGHC 60
(“Constance Chee”) at ‑, I had summarised the applicable
considerations in the following manner:
The Court of Appeal in Neo Man Lee v PP 
SLR 146 and Purwanti Parji v PP  2 SLR 220 at  approved
and applied the following three broad criteria that could warrant
the imposition of a term of life imprisonment as enunciated by the
English Court of Appeal in R v Hodgson (1968) 52 Cr App R 113 at
114 (“the Hodgson criteria”):
(1) where the offence or offences are in
themselves grave enough to require a very long sentence; (2) where
it appears from the nature of the offences or from the defendant’s
history that he is a person of unstable character likely to commit
such offences in the future; and (3) where if the offences are
committed the consequences to others may be specially injurious,
as in the case of sexual offences or crimes of violence.
In Purwanti Parji v PP, the Court of Appeal
took pains (at ) to stress that these criteria were “mere
guidelines” whose “status should not be overstated”. Just as
importantly, the court acknowledged that mental impairment was not
the “only way” to establish unstable character (at ). The
reference to “unstable character” would apply to individuals who
could pose a risk or danger to society arising from an inability
to maintain self-control when confronted with some provocation,
real or imagined.
43 The Court of Appeal in Purwanti Parji v PP
 2 SLR 220 (“Purwanti”) at  had emphasised that caution
must be exercised “before committing a young offender to life
imprisonment, especially since life imprisonment now means
imprisonment for the rest of the prisoner’s natural life”. See
also Abdul Nasir bin Amer Hamsah v PP  3 SLR 643 at ; PP
v Rohana  SGHC 52 (“Rohana”) at , and PP v Tan Kei Loon
Allan  2 SLR 288 (“Tan Kei Loon”) at . Generally
speaking, the degree of premeditation as well as the age of the
offender are crucial factors tipping the scales for or against a
sentence of indeterminate duration.
44 The accused’s state of the mind prior to and
during the actual incident is crucial in assessing her culpability
and in determining the appropriate sentence. I must in this
context add and reiterate that the applicability of the sentencing
considerations pertaining to general deterrence and specific
deterrence are of penumbral significance given that the accused
had a mental illness when the crime was committed: see Ng So Kuen
Connie v PP  3 SLR 178 at . I refer in this connection
to another of my observations in Constance Chee at :
The imposition of an indeterminate prison term
should be avoided when addressing offenders with an unstable
medical or mental condition if there is a reasonable basis for
concluding that the offender’s medical condition could stabilise
and/or that the propensity for violence would sufficiently and
satisfactorily recede after medical treatment and continuing
supervision. The burden is on the Prosecution to establish that
the accused is likely to remain a future and real danger to the
public without medication and permanent incarceration. [emphasis
45 The burden is on the Prosecution to adduce
facts intimating that life imprisonment is an appropriate sentence
for the accused. This is a burden that the Prosecution has
pointedly declined to either address or discharge in the instant
case. On the contrary, Dr Tan who testified for the Prosecution
opined on the basis of the applicable prognostic considerations
that the accused’s risk of re-offending is low and that the
depressive episode in question was purely of a transient nature.
46 Dr Tan is optimistic that the unhappy
confluence of factors that contributed to and triggered the
accused’s depression and ultimately the untimely death of the
deceased were in themselves abnormal; as such, the likelihood of a
future recurrence is improbable.
47 In Purwanti, the accused was a young maid
who killed her employer. She was convicted under s 304(a) of the
Penal Code. In imposing a life sentence on her, the court was
plainly perturbed by her character, the risk of recidivism and the
potential harm to society at large. The accused in the present
case has, on the other hand, received a favourable evaluation, not
least, from a psychiatrist testifying for the Prosecution. Such an
evaluation cannot be legitimately ignored or underestimated.
48 In Constance Chee, the accused had kidnapped
a child and caused her to fall from a block of flats. She was
charged under s 304(a) of the Penal Code. The accused was
suffering from schizophrenia and this factor significantly
coloured her moral culpability and responsibility for her actions.
Nevertheless, the court observed at  that the gravity of the
offence necessitated a lengthy term of imprisonment. The accused
was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.
49 In PP v Juminem  4 SLR 536, the two
accused domestic workers were charged with murdering their
employer. The court accepted the defence of diminished
responsibility and convicted them on a reduced charge under s
304(a) of the Penal Code. The first accused was suffering from a
depressive disorder. This, coupled with her personality and the
abuse she suffered at the hands of her employer, diminished her
responsibility for her employer’s death. She was sentenced to life
imprisonment. At 18 years of age, the second accused was young by
any account. Her youth, immaturity, low intellect, and depression
were all relevant considerations, tipping the balance in her
favour and persuading the court to sentence her to ten years’
50 In Rohana ( supra), the accused was a
21-year-old maid who had strangled her employer. She pleaded
guilty to a charge under s 304(a) of the Penal Code. In
distinguishing PP v Juminem and Purwanti, Woo Bih Li J noted that
in both those cases, the killing was the result of a significant
degree of premeditation, which was conspicuously absent in Rohana:
see . Similar to the present case, the expert opinion
pronounced in Rohana intimated that the accused in that case
suffered from diminished responsibility arising from a moderately
severe depressive episode. The lack of premeditation ultimately
persuaded Woo J to rule out life imprisonment. He sentenced the
accused to ten years’ imprisonment.
51 In Tan Kei Loon ( supra), the Court of
Appeal noted at :
We were of the view that it is not desirable,
unlike simple rape, to set a benchmark for culpable homicide. The
range of circumstances in which such offences are committed is
extremely varied, as our brief survey of the reported cases
demonstrates. They are not easily classified, and there is no such
thing as a ‘typical’ homicide. Similarly, to classify all culpable
homicides as more serious than all rapes is overly simplistic. As
counsel for the respondent pointed out, there is a co-relation
between the offender’s culpability and his mens rea. Whereas the
rapist intends to violate the victim without her consent, the
perpetrator in a culpable homicide case lacks the intention to
cause death. Sentencing for culpable homicide should remain a
matter within the trial judge’s discretion (subject to our power
to review a decision made in error, or which is manifestly
excessive or inadequate), and should be determined on the facts of
each particular case. [emphasis added]
52 Having briefly surveyed some relevant
sentencing precedents, it now remains for me to apply the
prevailing sentencing considerations to the salient facts.
53 At the outset, I have to acknowledge and
duly take into account the accused’s improbable likelihood of
re-offending as assessed by Dr Tan. The accused’s depression had a
distinct beginning in that it was triggered by her own domestic
complications and compounded by her financial predicament. The
accused now appears to have recovered from her transient illness.
Familial support and medical counselling will further diminish any
risk of future offences and ameliorate her chances of recovery. It
is noteworthy that even the mayor of her home town has given
concrete assurances that she will receive the necessary
counselling support and supervision once her incarceration ends.
In the circumstances, the imposition of a sentence of
indeterminate duration on the accused is clearly inappropriate.
54 Her prevailing illness, at the time the
offence was committed, strongly suggests that the element of
premeditation was lacking. The injuries sustained by both the
accused and the deceased support Dr Wee’s postulation that there
was indeed a fight. No weapon was used in inflicting the
ante-mortem injuries. It is now undisputed that the deceased died
from strangulation. It is, however, germane to note in this
connection that the ante-mortem injuries sustained by the deceased
were very much greater in their severity as compared to those
sustained by the accused. This suggests that the accused had the
upper hand throughout the struggle.
55 The accused had at least two opportunities
to avoid killing the deceased. She could have held back after she
pushed the deceased off her during the fight. Instead she chose to
grab a pillow and smother the deceased. Later when she saw the
deceased’s hands moving, she had a further opportunity to be
repentant, either by reviving the deceased or by seeking help.
Instead the accused in a remorseless act of cruelty used her bare
hands to effect the homicide. Granting that the accused suffered
from a mental abnormality, it still cannot be credibly gainsaid
that she could at all material times distinguish between right and
56 There is one further point I ought to make
in connection with the appropriate sentence in the instant case.
While the conduct of the accused in dismembering the deceased’s
body is both grotesque and abominable in every sense, legally it
constitutes an entirely irrelevant sentencing consideration. The
accused has only been charged with and convicted of killing the
deceased; not for an offence connected with the dismembering of
the deceased’s body and/or subsequent attempts at disposal. It
bears reiteration that the act of killing in this case occurred
well before the body was dismembered. A court when confronted by
such an unusual and repulsive mode of body disposal may
legitimately draw myriad inferences pertaining to an accused’s
prior culpability. No two cases of this nature are or can
conceivably be symmetrical. It would be quite inappropriate to
seek to draw analogies between different cases of body
dismemberment given the multitude of imponderables associated with
human behaviour. In this case one might say that the accused
behaved rather paradoxically. It would seem at first blush that
the act of dismemberment manifested an intention to conceal her
crime as evidenced by her immediate attempts to clumsily conceal
the body and clean up the Sunglade apartment. However, by choosing
to plant the deceased’s head and torso in two very public places
the accused’s behaviour strikes one as nothing short of incoherent
and incomprehensible. At that juncture she no longer sought to
conceal the deceased’s demise. Her post-offence conduct was
baffling and testament to the workings of a tortured mind. It
would be fair, all things considered, to infer that her prevailing
illness was in all likelihood severely exacerbated after she
killed the deceased.
57 It is most unfortunate that a tragic
concatenation of distressing circumstances had conspired to trap
the accused in a state of transient mental abnormality. That said,
her illness did not in any way dispossess her of the ability to
distinguish between right and wrong. While sympathy may be added,
justice cannot be subtracted from the sentencing equation. The
accused has consciously caused the loss of a life. An appropriate
sentence has to be imposed. I determine, upon considering all the
relevant circumstances, that the appropriate sentence for the
accused is a term of imprisonment of ten years commencing from the
date of her arrest on 10 September 2005.