4 Men Found Not Guilty in Pursat Murders

Pursat Provincial Court yesterday acquitted four men charged with the brutal rape and murder of two young girls in Pursat province last year, court officials said.

In January 2009, the mutilated bodies of cousins Nai Vinn, 11, and Phal Sophoeun, 14, were found hanging from a tree in Krakor district’s Svay Sar commune.

But yesterday’s verdict re­vealed that the gruesome case, which left the eyes of one victim gouged out and the legs of both broken, remained no closer to being solved.

Sem Douch, 40, and Ham So­phea, 29, arrested in March 2009, were set to walk free yesterday after the court cleared them of involvement in the crimes.

Judge In Bopha also an­no­unced not guilty verdicts for Touch Run, 19, and Douch Nith, 13, both of whom had been tried in absentia.

“I had many strong reasons for dropping charges against the four suspects,” Judge In Bopha said, declining to explain.

Adhoc provincial coordinator Nget Theavy said her organization and the victims’ lawyer were lobbying the prosecutor to lodge an ap­peal against the decision.

“The court did not provide a clear reason for dropping char­ges,” Ms Theavy said.

“I wonder why there was not enough evidence at the scene. Two years after the crime, why does the court not have enough inculpatory evidence?”

Ms Theavy added that a statement made by Mr Sophea, in which he said he saw two men carrying the victims on the day of the alleged crimes, never ap­peared at court.

An Sopheak, the 30-year-old sister of Ms Sophoeun, said that she would appeal the verdict, which she said had denied justice for her dead family members.

“It was an injustice to my sister and niece, I will check with the district and commune police to get more evidence,” Ms Sopheak said.

Han Meng Hoeung, a lawyer for the victims’ family, said that the court did not consider a re­quest for additional investigation, which he made during the trial in September.

“It was a big crime, brutal and cruel, but some witnesses were still not called for questioning,” Mr Meng Hoeung said, noting that he asked the prosecutor to appeal yesterday’s decision.

Sin Sopheak, chief of the provincial police bureau for major crimes, said he had not yet been informed of the court’s decision and that the police were still searching for other suspects.

“I feel disappointed too when the court makes a decision like this, but police have no power against the court’s decision,” Mr Sopheak said.

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said that she was deeply saddened by the verdict and worried for the safety of others put at risk.

“I fear for the lives of other innocent girls who will be subjected to the same kind of violence and atrocity,” Ms Sochua said.

“When the crime remains un­solved, then the same criminals will repeat the same act.”

  (Additional reporting by Alice Foster)

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