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14, 16.5 years’ jail for couple who tortured tenant to death

SINGAPORE — The married couple that tortured their tenant for eight months and caused her to die in the “most undignified manner” were hit with substantial punishments by the High Court on Friday (Dec 1).

Pua Hak Chuan (left), 38, and his wife Tan Hui Zhen (right), 33, were handed jail sentences of 14 years, and 16.5 years, respectively. The couple had pleaded guilty on Monday to causing grievous hurt to Annie Ee Yu Lian (center), 26, leading to her death. Photo: SPF, Facebook

Pua Hak Chuan (left), 38, and his wife Tan Hui Zhen (right), 33, were handed jail sentences of 14 years, and 16.5 years, respectively. The couple had pleaded guilty on Monday to causing grievous hurt to Annie Ee Yu Lian (center), 26, leading to her death. Photo: SPF, Facebook

SINGAPORE — The married couple that tortured their tenant for eight months and caused her to die in the “most undignified manner” were hit with substantial punishments by the High Court on Friday (Dec 1).

Former storeman Pua Hak Chuan, 38, was sentenced to 14 years’ jail and 14 strokes of the cane while his wife, 33-year-old Tan Hui Zhen, was sentenced to 16.5 years’ jail.

This was higher than the punishments sought by prosecutors on Monday when the couple pleaded guilty to charges of causing grievous hurt and causing grievous hurt with a weapon. Before Justice Hoo Sheau Peng sentenced the pair on Friday, the prosecution asked for more strokes of the cane for Pua and a longer jail term for Tan in lieu of caning.

This was because the Court of Appeal had laid out a sentencing framework for causing grievous hurt on Wednesday in its written judgment of a woman who had tortured her four-year-old son to death.

Where death is caused through grievous hurt, the indicative starting point should be close to the maximum penalty of 10 years and at least 12 strokes of the cane may be warranted.

Calling the period of abuse that 26-year-old Annie Ee Yu Lian underwent “appalling”, Justice Hoo said a substantial sentence was needed to reflect the gravity of Pua’s and Tan’s offences.

The judge took into account the physical as well as psychological abuse that Ee faced, including being scolded and called names.

She noted the escalation of the abuse, adding that the Ee’s silence — she had not fought back — had “emboldened” the couple.

Ee, who had borderline intelligence, was vulnerable and had trusted the couple, whom she called her “jie jie” and “jie fu” (older sister and brother-in-law in Mandarin), the judge noted.

“The accused persons fully abused that trust,” Justice Hoo told a packed courtroom, adding that the couple had exploited Ee financially and made her do household chores.

Pua and Tan were originally charged with murder but pleaded guilty to reduced charges. TODAY understands that the charges were amended after investigations were completed and prosecutors took into account forensic pathology and psychiatric findings.

Tan was found to have had moderate to severe depression when the offences occurred. She also has borderline personality disorder but Justice Hoo said her psychiatric conditions were of little mitigating weight.

“She knew full well what she was doing. Her acts were deliberate and she took full advantage of the trust of the victim… and got (Pua) involved in the abuse,” said Justice Hoo.

Their sentence was backdated to April 15, 2015, when they were remanded.

Tan and Pua began abusing Ee in Aug 2014. The waitress was slapped, whipped with a belt and had her head bashed. She was made to repay alleged debts and eventually handed her entire pay cheque to Tan, receiving a meagre weekly allowance in return. Around March 2015, the beatings were targeted at her buttocks, which developed large blisters that bled.

Ee was found dead on April 13, 2015, and had 12 fractured ribs, seven fractured vertebrae, a ruptured stomach and many bruises.

She died from acute fat embolism. She had been beaten so badly that her skin and fat dissociated from the muscle layer and the fatty tissue below the skin broke down and went into her bloodstream and lungs, affecting oxygenation of blood, and leading to cardiac and respiratory failure.

Tan’s older brother was in court on Friday. He apologised to Ee’s family and pleaded for the public not to launch personal attacks against the couple’s families.

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