SINGAPORE: A young couple stood trial on Tuesday (Nov 12) for killing their five-year-old son three years ago, with the prosecution painting a picture of "horrific" child abuse.
Before dying from severe scald injuries and blunt force trauma to the head, the boy had been pinched with pliers, burned with a heated spoon and confined in a cage meant for a cat, said the prosecution.
His 27-year-old parents, Azlin Arujunah and Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, have several other children and lived with some of them in a one-room rental flat, the court heard.
Any information identifying the victim and any of the other children cannot be published under gag orders issued by the court.
Ridzuan faces nine charges including murder with common intention, ill-treatment of a child and voluntarily causing hurt by means of a heated substance. Azlin faces six similar charges, including abetment of voluntarily causing hurt.
Both parents were jobless at the time and relied on financial assistance, with Ridzuan selling items such as amulets, love potions and old currencies online on Carousell.
According to the prosecution, the boy was given to a foster family shortly after his birth in January 2011, but returned to his biological parents' household in May 2015.
"From around July 2016, both accused began to physically abuse and psychologically torment the deceased in various ways," said Deputy Public Prosecutors Tan Wen Hsien, Daphne Lim and Li Yihong.
PARENTS PHYSICALLY ABUSED BOY: PROSECUTION
Both parents are accused of using pliers to pinch the boy's thighs and buttocks, hitting him with a broom or hanger, burning him with a heated spoon, scalding him with hot water, hitting him with their bare hands and keeping him in a cage meant for their pet cat.
On one occasion in August 2016, Azlin is said to have hit her son with a broom after suspecting that he had toppled a biscuit tin, scattering biscuits on the kitchen floor.
Her beating left marks on his stomach and caused the boy to develop a limp and a misaligned kneecap, said the prosecution.
His father allegedly flicked ash from a lit cigarette onto his son's arms when he refused to answer him, and used a heated spoon to burn his palm when he found out that the boy had stolen milk powder to eat.
From mid to late October 2016, before the boy died, his parents scalded him with hot water on at least four occasions, alleged the prosecutors.
Between Oct 15 and 17, his mother allegedly grabbed the victim by his ankle to prevent him from running away, then poured hot water over his right leg and hand, splashing the liquid over his arm and chest.
As a result, he was limping and in pain, and suffered blisters and peeling skin, said the prosecutors.
On another occasion, the boy's mother Azlin splashed hot water on him, and the boy shouted "kau gila ke apa?" which means "are you crazy or what?" in Malay.
This angered both his parents, and they both allegedly threw several cups of hot water at the boy.
BOY BECAME UNCONSCIOUS AFTER ABUSE
The abuse came to a head at around noon on Oct 22, 2016, said the prosecutors in their opening address. At this time, the boy was confined in a cage measuring 0.91m by 0.58m by 0.7m.
When Azlin wanted to bathe her son, he did not want to remove his shorts, and she woke her husband up so he could "deal with" the boy.
Ridzuan hit the victim over his head, hands and legs with a broom, but the boy refused to remove his shorts.
Ridzuan then threw several cups of hot water at the boy, who shouted "don't want, don't want" in Malay, said the prosecutors.
The boy crouched down in the toilet, and Ridzuan poured hot water over his back and calf, claimed the prosecution.
It was then that the boy fell forward onto the bathroom floor and stopped moving.
"Despite this, the accused persons decided not to convey him to the hospital immediately, as they were afraid that they would get into trouble and would be arrested for child abuse," said the prosecutors.
They took him to the hospital after more than six hours, and the KK Women's and Children's Hospital notified the police about a "case of non-accidental injury".
The boy's father was arrested at his flat a day later, and his mother was arrested on Oct 25, 2016.
The boy was taken to the emergency department with low body temperature, low blood pressure and in critical condition.
BOY HAD 75% OF BODY COVERED IN BURNS
Associate Professor Loh Tsee Foong, who took the stand as the prosecution's first witness on Tuesday, recorded the boy's injuries in his diagnosis.
These include: Major burn injuries of second to third degree, dehydration, acute kidney injury, nasal bone fracture, multiple facial lacerations and a background of iron deficiency anaemia with isolated speech delay.
The boy died of his injuries a day after he was admitted to hospital.
An autopsy on the boy found the cause of death to be severe scald injury, with blunt force trauma to the head as a contributory cause. He had burn injuries covering 75 per cent of his total body surface area.
The pathologist confirmed that the scald injuries on the boy were sufficient to cause death.
Scientific analysis by the Health Sciences Authority later found that the temperature of the hot water dispenser used in the alleged offences was between 86.5 and 98.7 degrees Celsius, with an average temperature of 92.6 degrees Celsius. Water at this temperature would have caused immediate burns on contact with the boy's skin.
PSYCHIATRIC STATES OF PARENTS
The boy's parents were remanded to assess their psychiatric states after their arrests.
Azlin was found to be suffering from an adjustment disorder in the period leading up to the offences, but was not of unsound mind at the time and was fit to plead. The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) doctor also found that she had an abnormal personality characterised by dependent and antisocial traits.
Another IMH consultant found that while Ridzuan appeared to have antisocial personality traits, he did not suffer from any mental disorder or intellectual disability. He was also found to be fit to plead and was not of unsound mind at the offences.
Further psychiatric opinions found that Azlin was suffering from an adjustment disorder with depressed mood at the time, which substantially impaired her mental responsibility for the acts leading to the boy's death.
Another doctor found that Ridzuan was suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intermittent explosive disorder and hypnotic use disorder, with a causal link between his disorders and his offending behaviour.
The prosecution intends to lead evidence from 44 witnesses over the course of the trial.
Azlin is defended by a team of lawyers including defence counsel Thangavelu, Terence Tan and Cheryl Ng, while Ridzuan is represented by Eugene Thuraisingam, Syazana Yahya and Haziq Ika.
The penalty for murder is death, or life imprisonment with caning.