SINGAPORE - For months, a 14-year-old boy who had an Internet gaming addiction harboured thoughts of killing his father for restricting his access to computer games.
One morning in December 2020, feeling aggrieved that his father had falsely accused him of throwing away a scoop used for laundry detergent, the boy stabbed the 49-year-old in the neck at their Loyang condominium.
On Monday (Jan 24), the lanky, bespectacled boy, who turns 16 next month, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in the High Court. He had been initially charged with murder.
He was sentenced to five years' detention - the first person here to be sentenced under a provision in the Children and Young Persons Act that allows the court to impose detention for murder, culpable homicide, attempted murder or causing grievous hurt.
Prosecutors had sought five to seven years' detention, while the defence asked for three to five years.
The boy, who has been remanded at the Singapore Boys' Home since his arrest, will likely continue to be detained there as he studies for his O levels this year.
Should he go on to take his A levels or N levels, he will be transferred to prison, which offers the necessary academic support, Deputy Public Prosecutor Lim Shin Hui told the court.
In sentencing, Justice Aedit Abdullah said three years was too short a time to enable sufficient rehabilitation, although he accepted psychiatric assessment that the boy was not likely to repeat such a violent act.
On the other hand, seven years was too long, he said, given that it remained uncertain whether the boy could be granted early release.
The judge also suggested that the authorities look into some form of pre-sentencing assessment for such detentions, involving psychiatrists, developmental psychologists, detention officers and other specialists.
He told the boy: "I hope you will reflect on what has happened and what you can do better."
The boy, his parents and his younger brother cannot be named, under the Act.
The court heard that the boy was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when he was one year and eight months old.
He initially enrolled in Pathlight School for Primary 1 but transferred to a mainstream school shortly after as he was deemed to be sufficiently high-functioning.
In 2018, when he was 12, he was diagnosed with Internet gaming disorder and attended various counselling and therapy programmes to manage both disorders.
The court heard that he had a difficult relationship with his father, whom he saw as being "highly controlling" for limiting his access to his mobile phone and computer games.
His father monitored the boy closely and set regular tasks and assignments for him, including laundry duties, homework and assessment books.
"When the accused occasionally failed to comply with the deceased's instructions, the deceased would hit the accused and swear at him," said the DPP.
In June 2020, the boy started harbouring thoughts of killing his father, after the man forbade him to play computer games for a month.
On the morning of Dec 11, 2020, after the boy's mother left for work, the father, who was doing laundry, became agitated when he could not find the detergent scoop.
The boy became angry with his father when the man asked if he had hidden the scoop, but nevertheless, helped to scoop the detergent with his hands.
After going back to his room, the boy thought about killing his father to be free of him.
He took a knife from the kitchen, but on realising that it was too big to hide in his pocket, took a shorter fruit knife instead.
After hearing his father telling his younger brother that he had thrown the scoop away, the boy took the knife from his pocket and stabbed his father in the neck.
As his father screamed, the boy placed the knife in the sink, ran back to his room and locked the door, while his younger brother called for an ambulance and also called their mother.
Shortly after, the boy came out of his room, apologised to his father and younger brother and pressed a towel to his father's neck to stop the bleeding.
However, the man collapsed and was taken unconscious to Changi General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The boy was arrested after he admitted to the police that he had stabbed his father.
A psychiatric assessment by the Institute of Mental Health found that the boy's ASD and obsessive-compulsive traits did not cause or contribute to the offence.
Psychiatric reports stated that the boy had sufficient maturity to understand and judge the nature and consequences of his conduct when committing the offence.
His risk of violent reoffending was also assessed to be low.
Defence counsel Shashi Nathan said this was an extremely tragic case that "decimated the family".
He said the boy told him, "I miss my Papa", the last time they met at the Boys' Home.
"Addiction to gaming was his escape into fantasy," the lawyer told the court. "The reality is a constant daily reminder that he has destroyed his family."
In his mitigation plea, he said the boy frequently argued with his father over game use and, at times, hacked into his parents' laptops to play games late into the night.
The lawyer said that the boy's younger brother stopped speaking for some time after the stabbing, and that his mother was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his arrest.
Mr Nathan added that his firm, Withers KhattarWong, decided to return his fees to the boy's mother as she had very little savings left.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.