The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court is to once again investigate the September murder of journalist Hang Serei Odom, after judges found that the original investigation of a military police captain and his wife had turned up little evidence.
As a reporter for the Virakchun Khmer Daily, 42-year-old Hang Serei Odom had written about officials’ involvement in the illegal timber trade in the months before his battered body was discovered stuffed into the trunk of his Toyota Camry on a cashew plantation in O’Chum district on September 11.
Captain An Bunheng, 37, and his wife, Sim Vy, 35, were arrested just two days later and are the only people charged with the murder, despite human rights groups and the victim’s family saying they believed that others must have at least known of the killing.
Ratanakkiri deputy provincial prosecutor Chea Sopheak said a panel of three judges, headed by Judge Iv Sovann, decided, following hearings in March and April, that the murder case should be handed to a different investigating judge.
“[It is] because there is a lack of evidence, in particular the interrogations of the suspects have yet to be perfectly completed,” Mr. Sopheak said. “That’s the reason why the panel of judges decided to appoint a new investigating judge to reinvestigate.”
Investigating Judge Luch Lao, who concluded a speedy investigation in November, has been replaced by court president Suos La, he said.
Mr. La said it was too early for him to comment on the case, and declined to say whether he would look at different suspects in the murder.
“I hope to get the case file tomorrow. Then I can start the investigation soon,” he said.
The original investigation presented evidence found at the couple’s home, which is also a restaurant in which the victim was seen drinking on the night of his disappearance, including knives and a pair of the victim’s shoes.
During the trial, a number of officials testified, including King Seang Lay, the provincial military police commander’s stepson—about whom Hang Serei Odom had written an exposé—and storied military figure Sath Soeun, who, the court heard from a military police official, had originally invited the journalist out drinking the night he went missing.
The lawyer for the defense, Tep Monycheat, has argued that the evidence against the couple was minimal and that no motive had been put forward to explain the murder.
He has also claimed that a blood sample taken from the home of the accused couple had turned out not to belong to the victim.
Hang Serei Odom’s wife, Im Chanthy, welcomed the reinvestigation and urged the court to investigate the involvement of more people in the slaying of her husband.
“An early conclusion to convict someone relating to the murder of my husband would not be justice for us,” she said. “We want to see the court convict and punish [all] the perpetrators.”
Adhoc senior investigator Pen Bonnar, who has followed the case, said that while Mr. Bunheng and Ms. Vy remain in detention, there are others involved with the murder who are still at large.
“That is why the court has decided to reinvestigate the case, because I think the court has the same information that there are more perpetrators or suspects involved with this killing.”