Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday found four family members guilty of conspiracy and the premeditated murder of a fisheries administration chief and sentenced them to 20 years in prison each. The four relatives hacked the Kompong Thom provincial official to death with a meat-clever at his office in December 2008, the verdict said.
“Chhum Sophea, 52, his wife Meach Sithol, 50, and their son Chhum Sophearith, 28, and their son-in-law Kith Hok Keang, 33—who is still at large—were ordered to pay [$75,000] in compensation,” presiding Judge Kor Vandy said. Another defendant, Phath Phay, 51, was acquitted of involvement in the murder, Judge Vandy said.
Ek Heng, 38, was hacked to death by his deputy Mr Keang, his colleagues Mr Sophea and Ms Sithol as well as their son Mr Sophearith who worked at the Ministry of Agriculture in Phnom Penh.
Mr Heng’s body was found on Dec 22 and the three convicted relatives were arrested eight days later. At the time police said that an examination showed Mr Heng was hit about six times with a meat cleaver.
No motive for the killing was given in court, but shortly after the murder provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, Yim Sikhuon, said Mr Heng had been promoted over more tenured employees, which may have led to his murder.
Mr Heng—reassigned from Sihanoukville less than eight months before his death—had also made changes at the office that resulted in tension with the fisheries community, Mr Sikhuon added.
During the trial, witnesses who worked at the fisheries office said they saw Mr Sophea on the day of the murder, while a driver’s statement read out by a court clerk said that Ms Sithol went to the office.
The three defendants pleaded not guilty in court, claiming they were far away from the scene at the time. According to their testimonies, Mr Sophea was 120 km away at the time of the killing, while Ms Sithol was in Siem Reap province and Mr Sophearith was at his office in Phnom Penh.
The victim’s lawyer Chann Vichet said that the relatives of Mr Heng claim that more suspects were involved in the murder.
“The victim’s family wanted the judge to sentence the defendants to life imprisonment,” Mr Vichet added.