The Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh yesterday upheld a verdict by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court finding four family members guilty of conspiracy in the premeditated murder of a fisheries official in 2008.
Chhum Sophea, 53; his wife, Meach Sithol, 50; and their son Chhum Sophearith, 29, were convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison in June 2010 for hacking Kompong Thom provincial fisheries chief Ek Heng to death with a meat cleaver at his office in December 2008. Their son-in-law, Kith Hok Keang, was also convicted, but remains at large.
“The Court of Appeal understands that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision had logic,” presiding Judge Khun Leang Meng said as he read the verdict. “The court also understands that we don’t need to invite witnesses, such as taxi drivers, to answer face to face, because those witnesses answered to the investigating judge already.”
The court had been asked by prosecutor Ten Senarong to reinvestigate the case and question the taxi drivers who had allegedly driven the defendants on the day of the murder.
After the decision was read, Ms. Sithol, who had been the accountant for the provincial Fisheries Administration, said: “I cannot accept the court’s decision because I, my husband and my son, did not commit the crime. This is an injustice for my family.”
Ms. Sithol said she would take the case to the Supreme Court. “If I committed the crime, I would have escaped to avoid arrest,” she added.
During the trial, she and the other two defendants maintained their innocence. No motive for the murder was ever established.
Te Chamnan, a lawyer for Ms. Sithol and her son, Mr. Sophearith, said he would appeal.
“I don’t think there is any evidence and witnesses to verify that my clients killed the victim, so in this case, there is still a suspicion,” Mr. Chamnan said.
Chann Vichet, a lawyer for the victim’s wife, said he was satisfied with the decision.
“But I appeal to the authorities and the court to help find and arrest the ringleader behind this case,” he said.