Official Pleads Self-Defense in Murder Trial

An Interior Ministry official who fatally shot a Phnom Penh village chief, his son and grandson during a bloodbath provoked by a petty financial dispute pleaded self-defense during his trial on Wednesday.

Keo Sovannarith, a 27-year-old second lieutenant at the ministry’s public order department, is facing murder charges for killing Chuk Lay, 62, the chief of Village 4 in Chamkar Mon district’s Tuol Svay Prey I commune, his son Bun Loeun, 28, and grandson Lay Rithy, 18, during a violent confrontation on December 16.

The fight allegedly erupted after Mr. Sovannarith handed over only half of $50 that Mr. Lay had enlisted him to collect from Chinese residents for repairs to a street lamp.

On trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday, Mr. Sovannarith said that a furious Mr. Lay had confronted him in his house, armed with a sword.

“I took my gun and cocked it and warned him not to come in, but he came in anyway and attacked me with the sword two times,” he said. “Then I shot him two times in the leg.”

Mr. Sovannarith said Mr. Lay’s son Bun Loeun then showed up with a sword of his own, and that he shot him too before turning his gun on the grandson, Lay Rithy, who showed up last and picked up the weapon of Bun Loeun, his uncle.

Although the three plaintiffs in the case, relatives of the deceased men, withdrew their complaints prior to the trial, deputy prosecutor Hor Lina said the defendant should still be convicted of murder.

“According to the law, any legal self-protection has to be equal with the other [force], but in this case, the accused used a gun and then shot the victims and caused them to die,” he said.

Mr. Sovannarith’s lawyer, Mak Bunna, maintained that his client had been within his rights to shoot the three men because they came into his house and attacked him.

“If he did not decide to shoot, the three victims would have killed him and he would have become the victim himself,” he said.

A verdict is due on June 28.

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