Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Feb 24 charged 18-year-old Tong Chen with the pre-meditated killing of British national David Mitchell, officials said.
The suspect told reporters at the court that he had acted in self-defense.
Mitchell, the owner of the popular Ginger Monkey bar in Phnom Penh, was stabbed to death on the balcony of his apartment on the morning of Feb 22.
“This is the heaviest charge,” Deputy Prosecutor Kry Sok Y said, adding that Tong Chen faces life in prison if convicted.
Tong Chen was not charged with attacking Mitchell’s 29-year-old girlfriend Jane Nye who is recovering at a hospital in Bangkok from serious knife wounds suffered during the attack.
Tong Chen, a homeless youth who lived in the park across from the Ginger Monkey and in front of the National Museum, has been remanded to Prey Sar prison to await trial, Kry Sok Y said.
As he was being escorted to a waiting police vehicle after two hours of questioning, Tong Chen told reporters he had killed Mitchell in self-defense.
“They had one knife and I had one knife,” he said. “They lunged at me with the knife first but I pushed it away and I stabbed back.”
He said he sneaked onto Mitchell’s balcony in order to steal food
“I feel sorry that I killed him,” he said, adding that he was not under the influence of drugs on the night of the slaying.
Kry Sok Y said Tong Chen cannot claim self-defense.
“That was not a self-defense because he went into their house,” he said. “It would be no problem if the house owner shoots or attacks him.”
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema on Feb 24blamed the killing on drug abuse.
“In a city with 1.5 million people, such an incident is difficult to prevent,” he said.
Jane Nye is recovering well in Bangkok, her friend Stephanie Bryant said by email from Thailand on Feb 24. “She will make a full recovery-the wound on her neck where her throat was slit is healing well, and [doctors] want to do the plastic surgery on her face,” Bryant wrote.
“We expect her to return to Phnom Penh next week,” she added.
(Additional reporting by James Welsh)