The publisher of an obscure local newspaper was sentenced to life in prison on Friday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after being found guilty of murdering his friend last year, while his two accomplices were sentenced in absentia.
“The court decides to sentence Som Kimsean to life for premeditated murder,” Presiding Judge Ly Lipmeng announced in the courtroom.
“The court decides to sentence the other two defendants, Sey Pharada and Suong Saray, in absentia,” the judge continued, adding that the court had issued a new arrest warrant for the pair, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Mr. Kimsean, 38, decried the verdict as he was escorted from the courthouse by prison guards.
“This is very unjust for me because I did not help to kill the victim,” he said. “I do not accept this decision and will appeal.”
Mr. Kimsean ran the irregularly printed Sovan Nokor newspaper before his arrest in Phnom Penh in May 2015.
According to military police investigators, Mr. Kimsean, Mr. Pharada and Mr. Saray invited Srun Sopheak, a 35-year-old factory courier, to drink and sing karaoke with them on the night of May 22, and slipped sleeping pills into his beer at some point during the revelry.
The trio then drove their unconscious victim to a quiet street in Sen Sok district, strangled him, stuffed his body into a rice sack and left it in a roadside trash pile. Military police apprehended Mr. Kimsean several days later, upon learning that he had pawned Srun Sopheak’s Toyota Camry in Kandal province.
The arresting officers said Mr. Kimsean admitted to killing his friend. But during his trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month, the publisher claimed the confession was obtained through torture. “They beat me,” he said at the time.
Khan Daravuth, deputy commander of the municipal military police’s investigations bureau, who led the investigation into Mr. Kimsean last year, said on Friday the publisher’s accusation was a desperate attempt to clear his name.
“We did not torture him,” Mr. Daravuth said. “This is the response of an accused person; he doesn’t want to take responsibility.”
Srun Sopeak’s brother, Srun Rithy—whose family is owed about $22,500 in compensation from Mr. Kimsean and his accomplices—said the publisher deserved the life sentence.
“I’m satisfied with the decision,” he said.
The motive for the murder remains unclear.