A judge on Tuesday acquitted five Chinese nationals charged with the murder of their housemate, who was hacked and stabbed to death in their Phnom Penh apartment last year, and sent the case back to prosecutors for further investigation.
Presiding Judge Ly Lipmeng said insufficient evidence was presented during the trial to link the defendants to the November 2015 murder of 25-year-old Chen Huaying, who was found dead in her bedroom at their shared apartment in the Borey New Town housing development in Pur Senchey district.
Physical evidence found at the scene—hair and fingerprints on a meat cleaver believed to be the murder weapon—did not match those of the defendants, Judge Lipmeng told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. And while footprints found at the scene matched one of the accused, Yang Pei Pei, 25, her guilt could not be derived from the evidence, as she lived in the house, the judge explained.
Ms. Yang was acquitted in absentia, along with Zhao Chunxi, 51, Lou Zaizun, 44, Xu Fuju, 58, and Zeng Wenxuan, 53. The five were arrested on the day of the murder after two of them found Ms. Chen’s body. Police initially suspected one of the two female roommates, based on her admission that she stole two knives from the other woman, the group’s designated cook.
All five were released about a week after the murder due to a lack of evidence, but were still named as defendants when the trial began in June, without any explanation.
Speaking outside the courtroom, deputy prosecutor Seu Vanny said she would discuss the next steps with her boss.
“I need to ask for comment from the prosecutor first,” she said. “We have a period of one month to appeal.”
The defendants’ lawyer, Hav Sinat, had argued at the trial that his clients did not commit the murder. “I think the court really found justice for my clients,” Mr. Sinat said of Judge Lipmeng’s decision.