Teenage Monk Gets Five Years for Murder

A defrocked teenage monk was on Tuesday found guilty of stabbing and killing a religious leader at Phnom Penh’s Samakki Raingsey pagoda, sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay about $5,000 to the victim’s family.

Chan Sopheak, who also goes by the name of Ly Toeng and is ethnic Khmer Krom, stabbed Thach Khan, 37, in the neck with a kitchen knife on January 12 after the victim, the second deputy chief monk at the dissident pagoda in Meanchey district, reprimanded him for bad behavior.

“The court decides to sentence Chan Sopheak, 17, aka Ly Toeng, to five years in prison on charges of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances causing death,” Presiding Judge Top Chhun Heng announced Tuesday, adding that the killer would also be responsible for paying 20 million riel (about $5,000) in compensation to the victim’s family.

During his trial on June 11, a court clerk stated that Mr. Sopheak was 18 years old. But on Tuesday, Judge Chhun Heng sentenced him as a minor, allowing for the crime’s usual sentence to be halved. The judge could not be reached for comment.

Monks at Samakki Raingsey have expressed disbelief at the actions of Mr. Sopheak, who they say arrived at the pagoda from southern Vietnam—or Kampuchea Krom—about six months ago and did not have violent tendencies.

Shortly after his arrest, Mr. Sopheak told police that Thach Khan came into his room on the morning of January 12 and punched him in the jaw.

“I tried to move away from him but he followed me, so I took a knife from the table nearby to fight back,” he said during his trial, adding that Thach Khan, a driving force behind recent anti-government protests, had repeatedly beaten him for refusing to attend demonstrations.

Multiple trips to Samakki Raingsey by reporters turned up only one person who witnessed the confrontation: Tib Pouly, 25, a local man who was visiting the pagoda and said the young monk instigated the attack.

“The young monk took a knife from his…bag and slashed him, hitting his hand and his neck, and blood gushed everywhere,” he said on the day of the murder.

Mr. Pouly did not appear in court as a witness.

In the days following the murder—at a pagoda that has been at odds with the government since its establishment in 1997—pagoda chief Seang Sovannara emigrated to France, leaving his deputy, Thach Ha Sam Ang, in charge.

Like many residents of Samakki Raingsey, Thach Ha Sam Ang believes Mr. Sopheak was instructed to kill Thach Khan in order to bring unwanted attention to the pagoda.

Neang Hay, a lawyer for Mr. Sopheak, on Tuesday said the five-year sentence was excessive, as his client had been acting in self-defense.

As he exited the courtroom, however, Mr. Sopheak said that he would not appeal the decision.

“I don’t have the money,” he said.

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