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Tan Hui Zhen and her husband Pua Hak Chuan (Source: The Straits Times).

Couple who tortured intellectually disabled waitress sentenced to 16.5 and 14 years imprisonment

The couple who tortured an intellectually disabled waitress over a period of eight months leading up to the point of her death, have been sentenced to jail on Friday (1 December).

Tan Hui Zhen, 33, was sentenced to 16-and-a-half years' jail, and her husband Pua Hak Chuan, 38, was given 14 years' jail and 14 strokes of the cane.  Tan is given an additional six months in lieu of the caning that she would have been given for the offence.

Earlier on Monday (27 November), Tan pleaded guilty to two counts each of causing grievous hurt and causing grievous hurt with a weapon, while Pua pleaded guilty to one count of causing hurt and two counts of causing grievous hurt with a weapon.

The couple were initially charged with murder but was given reduced charge by the prosecutors for pleading guilty. According to The Straits Times, the charges were amended after police completed investigations into Ms Ee's death and on the basis of forensic pathologist reports.

The autopsy report performed on Ms Ee showed that she had suffered fractures to seven vertebrae and 12 ribs and that she passed away from a rare cause known as acute fat embolism, which occurred when, as a result of the blunt force impact on her buttocks, fatty tissue entered her bloodstream and travelled to her lungs, creating a blockage of the blood vessels. This interfered with blood getting oxygen in the lungs, leading to progressive cardiac and respiratory failure.

Justice Hoo Sheau Peng in her deliverance of the sentence, said that the case was “appalling” and that the couple had abused the victim in an “extremely cruel and inhumane manner”, causing her to die an undignified death.

She highlighted that the substantial sentence for the two reflect the gravity and severity of the case.

Justice Hoo said Tan and Pua had abused the trust of a vulnerable victim who treated them as her family, whom Ms Ee referred to as sister and brother-in-law.

The judge also said that when Ms Ee suffered in silence, the couple were emboldened to escalate the violence inflicted on her. Not only did the couple abused her physically but also psychological by calling her names. She also noted that the two exploited Ms Ee financially by making up debts which she did not owe the couple.

Justice Hoo remarked that in the face of the suffering of Ms Ee, the couple did not repent and arranged the Ms Eee to change her job. And that on 12 April 2015, the day before Ms Ee passed away, the couple were more concerned about their own interest despite the great pain that the deceased were in, by continuing to physically and emotionally abusing her, allowing Ms Ee to die in an indignified manner after being deprived of medical attention.

The sentence for the couple will be backdated from 15 April 2015 as they have been held under remand by police since then.

Tan's eldest brother spoke to reporters outside the court room, apologising to the victim's family. He agreed that the couple should be firmly punished for what they did and that he hoped "it will be a lesson for everyone".

The brother dispelled public speculation that the couple were facing less severe charges as a result of family background or money. He noted that the defence lawyer, Josephus Tan from Invictus Law Corporation, was acting for them on a pro bono basis.

Through Mr Josephus Tan, Pua’s mother also said she was deeply apologetic to the victim’s family and that her son got what he deserved. She also asked for the public’s understanding and forgiveness.

The defence lawyer also noted that the family of the convicted individuals are concerned about how the overwhelming negative sentiment from the public will affect them and reminds the public that the family is not involved with the case.

In response to queries about the negative public opinion in him representing the couple, Mr Tan pointed out that as what his mentor, Subhas Anandan has said, all accused deserve fair representation, no matter how horrendous the crime may be.

Change.org petition was earlier created by a member of public, Ms Neo Chuan Yi to seek heavier punishment on the couple and has been signed by close to 20 thousand individuals.

The petition is said to be delivered to the Attorney-General's Chambers and to be cc to Minister of Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam, Deputy Senior State Counsel, Ms April Phang Suet Fern and State Counsel, Ms Claire Poh Hui Jing.

In the petition, Ms Neo wrote, "Not only did they tortured the poor girl to death, they tried to cover their tracks when they found the poor girl dead. If the sentence is passed, they will only be in their 50s when released from jail."

"How can we let such beasts roam free and potentially targeting another victim of weaker mental capacity?" she asked.