The Court of Appeal on Thursday sentenced two men to 20 years in prison for the brutal 2009 rape and murder of two young girls in Pursat province, and ordered the release of a third man implicated in the case.
Presiding Judge Pak Chansambor downgraded charges and resentenced Ham Sophea, 32, and Touch Run, 22, who is at large, to long prison terms after they were previously acquitted in October 2010. Sem Douch, 43, was acquitted for the second time due to a lack of evidence.
“[The Court of Appeal] decided to change the charges from premeditated murder to rape with aggravating circumstances and decided to sentence Ham Sophea and Touch Run each to 20 years in prison,” Judge Chansambor said.
“[The Court of Appeal] also orders the arrest of Touch Run and the immediate release of Sem Douch,” the judge added, declining to explain why two men were sentenced while the third was released.
Chan Hoeun, a lawyer for Sem Douch and Ham Sophea, said he would appeal the decision against Ham Sophea.
“The decision against Ham Sophea is not correct…. We will appeal to the Supreme Court for justice,” he said.
Thursday’s verdict is another chapter in a case that has dragged on since January 2009, when the bodies of cousins Nai Vann, 11, and Phal Sophoeun, 14, were found mutilated and hanging by the neck from a tree in Pursat province’s Krakor district.
The girls were reported missing a day after they went into the forest looking for firewood on January 4, 2009, and were discovered two days later by Phal Sophoeun’s brother. One of the girls was covered in bruises, had both legs broken and her eyes gouged out; the other had a broken neck and a broken leg.
Residents of Svay Sar commune, where the girls lived, were outraged by the brutality of the case and put together a petition with more than 600 signatures urging police to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
Nineteen months after they were arrested, in September 2010, Ham Sophea and Sem Douch came before the Pursat Provincial Court, while Touch Run was tried in absentia. On October 26, 2010, the trio was acquitted of premeditated murder due to a lack of evidence.