The Kratie Provincial Court has freed on bail two of three men arrested for the October slaying of 49-year-old reporter Taing Try after the third man told the court that he carried out the murder on his own, the court’s chief prosecutor said Sunday.
Taing Try, who contributed to several local newspapers in Kratie, was shot in the forehead at about 1 a.m. on October 12 in the province’s Snuol district while investigating reports of illegal logging, according to witnesses.
Two days later, the court laid murder charges against three men—a commune police chief, a military police officer and a soldier—and placed them in provisional detention at the provincial prison. At a press conference in Kratie the day after the reporter was killed, all three men confessed to the crime.
On Sunday, however, chief prosecutor Ty Sovinthal said the soldier, 32-year-old La Narong from neighboring Mondolkiri province, told the court during questioning that he had carried out the hit alone.
Mr. Sovinthal declined to say when the confession was made, but said he subsequently signed for the release of 31-year-old Ben Hieng, the former chief of police in Mondolkiri’s Sre Chhouk commune, and 27-year-old Khim Pheakdey, a military police officer who was stationed in Phnom Penh, who were freed sometime last week.
“We released them on bail because our investigating judge found them involved [only] in a misdemeanor, as we found some witnesses who heard them trying to stop the shooter, saying: ‘Don’t do anything to him,’” he said, explaining that the misdemeanor accusation stemmed from the fact that they owned the car and handgun used by Mr. Narong.
“In Cambodia, there are a lot of people who lend their cars and their guns to each other—even my own car, my friends borrow that too—[and so] this case needs to be reconsidered,” Mr. Sovinthal said.
The prosecutor said that Mr. Hieng and Mr. Pheakdey had helped police arrest Mr. Narong, and that the assistance they had provided contributed to the decision to free them.
“Both men cooperated with our police forces to lure the shooter to come to the police to arrest him, and they have a lawyer from Phnom Penh, so we decided to release them on bail and they can compensate the victim’s wife,” he said.
“The shooter, La Narong, also confessed that both men were not involved in the killing of the reporter Taing Try,” he added.
Hean Cheavkun, a provincial monitor for rights group Adhoc, said Mr. Hieng and Mr. Pheakdey were released from prison on Wednesday.
Ms. Cheavkun said that their release came just as the provincial court was about to begin questioning eight reporters who witnessed the killing of Taing Try and who are scheduled to appear before the court on Thursday and Friday.
“This case is abnormal,” Ms. Cheavkun said.
Taing Try’s widow, Chhoem Mom, said Sunday that she was unhappy with the release of the two men, but that without her husband to provide for her, she does not have the resources to fight back against the court’s decision.
“I did not know that they were released on bail and I am shocked by this news. I am in a state of great difficulty because I have no male members of my family who can oppose [such decisions] in my husband’s court case,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said a press conference took place in Ratanakkiri province after the reporter was killed. It took place in Kratie province.