Retired US Marine Captain Michael Pepe was convicted in the US on Thursday of having illicit sex with seven Cambodian girls, making him eligible for a maximum jail sentence of over 200 years.
Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles announced the conviction on all seven felony counts and said testimony and physical evidence in the three-week trial showed Pepe, 54, had drugged, bound, beaten and raped his victims, who ranged in age from 9 to 12 years at the time of the crimes in 2006.
Pepe, part-time Pannasastra University professor of management from 2003 to 2005, was arrested in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district in June, 2006 following an investigation by Cambodian police, US federal agents from the departments of State and Homeland Security and the anti-human trafficking NGO International Justice Mission.
IJM’s Cambodia Field Office Director Patrick Stayton said Friday that jurors had found the evidence particularly persuasive.
“My understanding is that the jury deliberated for just over an hour before handing down their verdict of guilty on all counts,” Stayton said.
In a press statement , prosecutors said six of Pepe’s victims had testified in court and an alleged prostitute said in a videotaped deposition she had procured the girls for Pepe.
Physical evidence seized at Pepe’s Phnom Penh apartment included restraints and sedatives including the so-called “date-rape” drug Rohypnol as well as explicit photographs of Pepe with the victims, according to the statement.
“These were photographs that were offered as direct evidence of the crime that he was accused of,” Stayton said.
Cambodian police said Friday they could offer few details about the trial however Bith Kimhong, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, said his deputy Sun Rau had traveled to the US a month ago in connection with the trial.
Stayton said IJM was also aware of Cambodian character witnesses subpoenaed by Pepe’s defense however he said he could not provide their identities Friday.
The Associated Press news agency reported Friday that Pepe’s lawyer Carl Gunn said he was considering an appeal and had argued that the abuse was committed by a prostitute and her boyfriend with access to Pepe’s house. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept 3.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)