Cracks in the case against the accused killers of union leader Chea Vichea continue to surface, despite Municipal Deputy Police Chief Heng Pov voicing confidence in his investigation.
On Sunday, the man whom Heng Pov said last week was his principal eyewitness to the crime denied having clearly seen the shooter.
“I do not know the face, just the profile,” Preap Sokhorn, 35, said.
In an interview last week, Heng Pov named Preap Sokhorn as the source of the description from which police based their sketch of the suspected killer.
Police released an artist’s rendering, a frontal view of a young man, on Jan 26.
But Preap Sokhorn said that police did not question him until after the Jan 30 televised confession of suspect Born Samnang.
Other witnesses to the crime said at the time that they had not been questioned or consulted by police prior to the release of the sketch.
Preap Sokhorn said he was sitting in his cyclo waiting for a passenger on the morning of Jan 22, when Chea Vichea was shot dead at a newsstand some meters away.
He said he told police he could not remember well what the shooter looked like, but he described what he could.
“Then police showed me a photograph and it was similar to the man I saw,” the cyclo driver said.
On Sunday, reporters showed Preap Sokhorn a photo of Born Samnang, 23, and Sok Sam Oeun, 36, taken when police paraded them before reporters on Jan 29.
“The picture police showed me does not look like him. It’s not the same guy,” Preap Sokhorn said, pointing at Born Samnang, the alleged shooter.
“If you look at the hair, it is similar, but not the face,” he said.
Preap Sokhorn said the killer he saw had a “shorter face.”
And, “the killer was young, less than 20 years old, and thin.”
He said he never saw the face of the man who drove the motorbike that took the killer away.
Heng Pov also said last week that three people at a Tuol Kok district karaoke club had told police they had seen Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun often smoking amphetamines together at the club.
Heng Pov told a reporter that the karaoke club was located at 337 Street 311. Street 311 has no karaoke clubs or three-digit addresses.
But there is a 337 one block over on Street 313, and it houses the Mlup Thnort (Palm Tree Shadow) karaoke club.
Several girls working at the club said last Wednesday that they recognized Born Samnang but not Sok Sam Oeun, after seeing the same photo reporters later showed to Preap Sokhorn.
Born Samnang used to hang out at the club with two or three men about his same age, as often as twice a month, the girls said.
One girl said she did not know Born Samnang’s personality, but she had never seen him use drugs.
“Some people use drugs here, but I never saw him,” she said.
The girls asked not to be identified.
Heng Pov said last week that Born Samnang, Sok Sam Oeun and Suong Sokha, who was previously arrested for the slaying but released due to a lack of evidence, were contract killers.
Police arrested Suong Sokha again on Feb 11 on charges of involvement in a 2002 robbery. He is detained under a warrant.
Suong Sokha’s re-arrest made him the third person police had apprehended in three days who had tried to provide rights workers and reporters with alibis for a suspect in Chea Vichea’s murder.
Despite Heng Pov’s allegations, reporters could not find evidence of an association between Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun before police presented them together on Jan 29.
At the Ly Ly massage parlor and barbershop in Tuol Kok, where Born Samnang was known to linger, employees said they had never seen Sok Sam Oeun.
Residents of the alley where Suong Sokha lived, where police arrested him and Sok Sam Oeun, said they had never seen Born Samnang.
Heng Pov also has cited the testimonies of three people at Ny Ny guest house as important evidence. The three people said Born Samnang spent the night of Jan 21 there and left the morning of Chea Vichea’s death, the deputy chief said.
Heng Pov said those witnesses had provided the break in a tough investigation and he had learned about them in the Feb 19 issue of The Cambodia Daily.
But Meas Sovann, proprietor of Ny Ny guest house, told reporters on Feb 17 that commune police had questioned him about Born Samnang on Jan 31, a day after the suspect’s confession.
In that confession, Born Samnang told police that after killing Chea Vichea, he and his partner had parted ways after agreeing to meet at the Ny Ny to split the second installment of their $5,000 fee.
Born Samnang said he had skipped the rendezvous, fearing his apprehension.
Meas Sovann had no record of Born Samnang’s stay and, when asked if he recognized Sok Sam Oeun from a photo, said he did not because so many customers pass through, he could not remember them all.
Heng Pov said that Born Samnang had made himself memorable at the Ny Ny by looking like a gangster.
The Ny Ny testimonies contradict those given by many residents of a Prey Veng province village near the Neak Leoung ferry crossing.
They told reporters last month that Born Samnang did not leave their village from Jan 20 until Jan 28, when police took him away during pre-dawn hours.
Born Samnang’s girlfriend was taken into police custody Feb 9, the day The Cambodia Daily reported her sweetheart’s alibis. She was released that night after London-based rights group Amnesty International issued an urgent statement of concern for her safety.
Asked about the conflicting reports from Prey Veng, Heng Pov said, “I don’t know why they talk like that.”
A friend of Born Samnang’s girlfriend, who would only agree to be identified only as Chanthou, said Thursday that she was in Prey Veng with the two lovers at the time of Chea Vichea’s killing.
They were celebrating Chinese New Year and many people there remember Born Samnang, Chanthou, 28, said.
“People in the village are happy to be witnesses,” she said.
(Reporting by Porter Barron, Phann Ana and Thet Sambath)