Judge Drops Charges in Union Death

A Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge said Monday that he has dismissed charges against the two men accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea, but the suspects will remain in prison pending an appeal by the court prosecutor.

Judge Hing Thirith said that his investigation had not turned up sufficient evidence to try Born Samnang, 23, and Sok Sam Oeun, 36, for the Jan 22 shooting of the union lead­er.

“The suspect’s confession is irregular, so I decided Friday evening to drop the charges against both suspects,” he said.

Hing Thirith said that his ruling was appealed within the allotted 24 hour period.

“Prosecutor Khut Sokheng com­plained to the Appeals

Court about my decision and asked them to re-examine my

judgment,” he said.

Hing Thirith said he did not know when the Appeals Court will hear the case.

Khut Sokheng could not be reached for comment on Monday.

At a Jan 29 news conference, where the two suspects were handcuffed, hooded and presented to reporters, police said that a confession by Born Samnang had led to the arrest of Sok Sam Oeun.

After the black sacks were removed from their heads, the suspects cried out their innocence.

But the next day, Born Sam

nang confessed he shot Chea Vichea because he needed the $5,000 promised for the hit.

Since then, however, witnesses have provided alibis for Born Samnang, and a man who police said was a key witness also said that Born Samnang was not the killer.

When reporters visited a Prey Veng province village near the Neak Leoung ferry crossing on Feb 8, numerous residents, including small children, said that Born Samnang had been celebrating Chinese New Year with them when the killing occurred in Phnom Penh.

Police conduct during the criminal investigation was also called into question by local and international rights groups, after police officers apprehended Born Samnang’s girlfriend the day after reports were published of her alibi for Born Samnang.

Evidence of the association between Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, before police presented them together, also remained sketchy at best.

Municipal Deputy Police Chief Heng Pov, who is in charge of the investigation, said earlier this month that people at a Tuol Kok district karaoke parlor had told police the two suspects visited their club together and smoked amphetamines.

Women working at the club told reporters they recognized Born Samnang as a customer from a photograph, but said they had never seen Sok Sam Oeun. They also said they had never seen Born Samnang using drugs.

Chum Sovannaly and Chea Dara, attorneys for Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, respectively, said they had only learned about Hing Thirith’s dismissal of charges on Monday, and would follow up on the case today.

“I was preparing to file a motion to free my client, but now I have heard that Investigating Judge Hing Thirith has dropped the charges,” Chea Dara said.

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