Salt-formula aunt charged with murder

Staff writer, with CNA

Sat, Dec 28, 2013 - Page 4

A woman was on Thursday charged with murder following the Nov. 15 death of her three-month-old niece. The baby died after consuming lethal amounts of salt that had been mixed into her baby formula.

The indictment filed by the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office accuses Tsou Ya-ting (鄒雅婷) of repeatedly mixing salt into the formula in September and October, apparently out of spite for her brother-in-law’s wife.

Tsou, 33, is alleged to have continued her actions even after Baby Hsiang-hsiang (緗緗) had been taken to hospital more than once with a fever and restlessness caused by her intake of salt.

The indictment said that following the death of the infant, Tsou wrote a rambling account of the events, containing nonfactual information, in an attempt to shift the blame away from herself.

Prosecutors said that Tsou wrote she had been “diagnosed to die” by a doctor — a claim that her medical records later proved false — and had only taken responsibility for poisoning Hsiang-hsiang to “protect a certain someone,” without providing further information.

The letter that was sent to the prosecutor after Tsou was first questioned by the authorities reportedly did not include a confession or address her motive for the poisoning.

The indictment asked for “due punishment” for Tsou, saying, however, that she was the main provider for her two children, as her husband has been out of work.

Under the Criminal Code, those convicted of murder can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment. The minimum sentence is 10 years behind bars.

Tsou’s motive was alleged jealousy of the victim’s mother, surnamed Chen (陳), wife of Tsou’s brother-in-law.

Chen and her husband, a younger brother in the Shen family, were showered with affection by the family living in the Shen home, while Tsou and her family had to live on their own, according to statements Tsou made to prosecutors.

Tsou apparently resented being forced to do chores in the Shen household, despite not living with the family.

She allegedly first mixed about 25g of sea salt into Hsiang-hsiang’s formula on Sept. 18 — less than a month after the baby’s birth on Aug. 20 — and put another 25 grams into a second can of baby formula in early October.

She did the same with a third can on Oct. 9, after which the infant became agitated and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment, prosecutors said.

After Chen yelled at Tsou’s two young children on Oct. 15, an upset Tsou allegedly tossed another handful of sea salt into the third can of formula, followed by around 30g of refined salt.

After weeks of continued health problems, Hsiang-hsiang died on Nov. 15, five days short of her three-month birthday. The cause of death was given as a high level of sodium in her blood.

Prosecutors and family members initially suspected problems with the formula company, but an inspection of its offices and warehouse in Greater Kaohsiung produced no leads.

Following a Nov. 19 autopsy, prosecutors began to look at the victim’s family and conducted interviews that eventually led them to single out Tsou.