A long-awaited trial for the two men accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea was postponed Tuesday when their lawyers boycotted the court proceedings.
After a brief session, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Kong Set ordered suspects Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun returned to PJ prison, where they have been detained since their arrest following Chea Vichea’s Jan 22, 2004, shooting death.
“We postponed the trial today because this case is a criminal case, and the culprits need to have lawyers present at the trial,” Kong Set told reporters after the session.
The suspects’ lawyers, who belong to the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid group, declined to show up for Tuesday’s scheduled trial in order to push their clients’ case through the due process of law, said CDP Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun, who is no relation to the suspect of the same name.
Since the two men have been detained far beyond the legal six-month pre-trial detention period, CDP lawyers Chum Sovannaly and Khov Chantha had appealed for the Supreme Court to grant them bail after the Appeals Court denied their release last month.
The lawyers are urging that a Supreme Court bail hearing be held before the men are put on trial, the CDP director said.
“We don’t trust that the lower court is [courageous] enough to acquit our clients,” he said.
“We want to test the Supreme Court first. If they agree to release our clients” the Municipal Court may then be emboldened to acquit them when it comes time for a trial, he added.
The CDP director said the defense lawyers nevertheless had witnesses to provide alibis for the suspects on the day Chea Vichea was killed and could prove them innocent. In contrast, he said, the police have provided no evidence linking the men to the crime.
In March 2004, former municipal court investigating judge Heng Thirith had dropped all charges against the two, citing lack of evidence, but that decision was later overturned and Heng Thirith was removed from his position.
On Tuesday, Vorn Phon, 62, the father of suspect Sok Sam Oeun, insisted his son is innocent.
“I strongly believe my son couldn’t have done what they accused him of doing. Even when he wanted to eat chicken, he dared not cut the chicken’s neck because my son is afraid of blood. And now they accuse him of being a killer,” Vorn Phon said.
(Additional reporting by Wency Leung)