Man gets life imprisonment for murdering 4-year-old stepdaughter after Court of Appeal overturns original 9-year sentence

Singapore's Chief Justice Menon said that the judge had erred in understanding and applying the law, highlighting that the accused deliberately kicked the victim

A 31-year-old man has been sentenced to life in prison and 12 strokes of the cane for causing the death of his four-year-old stepdaughter
A 31-year-old man has been sentenced to life in prison and 12 strokes of the cane for causing the death of his four-year-old stepdaughter. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A man was sentenced to life in prison and 12 strokes of the cane on Tuesday (2 April) for causing the death of his four-year-old stepdaughter by kicking her in the stomach, following a ruling by the Court of Appeal that overturned his previous conviction on a less serious charge.

Muhammad Salihin Ismail was convicted under Section 300(c) of the Penal Code, according to The Straits Times. This section deals with murder committed with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the injury is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.

Prosecutors appealed against initial lesser charge

The 31-year-old had faced trial in the High Court in 2021 for a murder charge after the victim, Nursabrina Agustiani Abdullah, suffered fatal abdominal injuries at the family’s rental flat in Bukit Batok between 1 and 2 September 2018. She was taken to the hospital on 2 September and pronounced dead at around 10.15 am.

Salihin was acquitted of murder in the High Court in 2022, with the judge ruling that although he had intentionally kicked the victim, he did not intend to strike the part of the body that was fatally injured.

Instead, he was convicted of voluntarily causing grievous hurt and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment and 12 strokes of the cane.

However, the prosecutors appealed against the High Court’s decision on 2 April, wanting Salihin to be convicted of murder, according to the English daily.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Senthilkumaran Sabapathy argued that it did not matter whether Salihin had intended to strike a specific part of his stepdaughter’s abdomen and that the accused had admitted to intentionally and forcefully kicking her.

The Court of Appeal, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justices Tay Yong Kwang and Debbie Ong, allowed the prosecution’s appeal. Chief Justice Menon said that the lower court judge had had erred in understanding and applying the law.

According to The Straits Times, he said that the evidence clearly showed that Salihin had intended to kick the girl in the stomach because he wanted to teach her a lesson and that the prosecution was not required to show that the accused had intended to cause the medical consequences of his actions.

He added that the defence accepted that Salihin had kicked the victim with a force that was sufficient to cause death.

The detailed grounds of decision will be issued by the Court of Appeal at a later date.

The cause of the victim’s death

Salihin became a stepfather to the victim in 2016 when she was two years old when he married her mother.

He became angry with the victim twice on 1 September 2018, when she urinated on the floor while her mother was at work. The first incident took place in the morning, during which he placed her on the toilet bowl and hit her in the stomach.

In the second incident that afternoon, he pushed her and kicked her abdomen while she was lying on the floor. The girl curled up on the floor and started sobbing, after which Salihin delivered a second kick. She complained of a stomachache in the evening and began vomiting into the wee hours of the morning.

Although Salihin suspected that his assault was the cause of the girl’s condition, he remained silent. It was only when the girl became unconscious that he told his wife to call the paramedics.

After the girl died in the hospital, an autopsy found that the cause of the girl's death was internal bleeding in the abdomen from blunt force trauma.

During his defence, Salihin suggested that the victim’s injuries could have been caused by her vomiting actions, her half-brothers sitting on her stomach, or the cardiopulmonary resuscitation he performed on her.

Salihin had previously admitted to scalding the victim’s back with hot water flowing from a shower head in between July and October 2017, and slamming her head against the floor between January and April 2018.

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