Ten-Year Sentence for Village Chief Murder

An Interior Ministry official who had claimed self-defense in last year’s fatal shooting of a Phnom Penh village chief, his son and grandson in a dispute over a $50 payment was sentenced on Tuesday to 10 years in prison.

Keo Sovannarith, a 27-year-old second lieutenant in the public order department, was found guilty of murdering 62-year-old Chuk Lay and his son and grandson after the chief confronted him about not collecting money needed for street light repairs.

Interior Ministry official Keo Sovannarith, right, leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday after being found guilty of murder. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Interior Ministry official Keo Sovannarith, right, leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday after being found guilty of murder. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)2

The sentence “is too serious, brother,” Mr. Sovannarith said to a reporter as he was being led out of the courtroom after Presiding Judge Theam Chanpiseth delivered the verdict. “It was an accidental matter.”

Murder is punishable by 10 to 15 years in prison.

During his trial on May 25, Mr. Sovannarith claimed he acted in self-defense on December 16, only shooting the three after they attacked him with swords for bringing only half of the $50 he had been enlisted to collect from neighbors. He said he had repeatedly warned the village chief, his son Bun Loeun, 28, and grandson Lay Rithy, 18, before shooting.

However, the deputy prosecutor, Hor Lina, argued that even if Mr. Sovannarith had been attacked with the swords, fatally shooting three people with a pistol went beyond self-protection.

“According to the law, any legal self-protection has to be equal with the other [force],” Mr. Lina said during the trial.

Speaking by telephone after the verdict on Tuesday, Mr. Sovannarith’s lawyer Mak Bunna said the sentence was too harsh as the pistol was the only weapon available to his client at the time.

“There is no justice for my client, because my client only used legal self-protection,” Mr. Bunna said. “At that time, if my client did not have a gun to shoot, the one who died may have been my client.”

Mr. Bunna said he would discuss with his client whether to take the verdict to the Appeal Court.

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