The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday sentenced a 23-year-old medical student, who killed three young children in a collision while fleeing two earlier hit-and-run crashes, to three years in prison, but ruled to release her imminently after suspending almost the entire sentence.
Reading out the verdict in court, presiding Judge Kor Vandy said Keampisith Manita’s sentence had been suspended except for three months and 15 days, most of which she has already served in pretrial detention.
“The court sentences the offender to three years in jail but only three months and 15 days will be served with the rest of the sentence being spent on probation,” Judge Vandy said.
Keampisith Manita was placed in pretrial detention one week after the high-speed crash on March 1, which means she is now due for release in a matter of days, serving just one month for each of three the children she killed.
“The court bans Ms. Manita from driving from now on,” Judge Vandy added, without saying whether the ban would be for life or not.
Judge Vandy also said that Keampisith Manita would be fined 6 million riel, about $1,500, and that her Toyota Camry, which she was driving at the time of the crash, would be returned to her.
Explaining his extremely lenient sentence, the judge said that Keampisith Manita had paid thousands of dollars in compensation to the families of the three young victims, and they had dropped charges against her as a result.
Keampisith Manita, who is a sixth year student at Phnom Penh’s University of Health Sciences and the daughter of a provincial health department official, was originally charged with unintentional homicide.
She killed the three children—Rin Bopha, 12; Rin Rachna, 8; and Srim Bunhong, 8—while fleeing the scene of two earlier crashes on Norodom Boulevard. A further six people were injured in the two earlier crashes.
After listening to witnesses and testimony from the families of the deceased on Wednesday, Judge Vandy said it was undeniably clear that she had caused the deadly accidents. However, the judge added that the families of the children had withdrawn their complaints against her in return for receiving cash compensation.
The mother of two of the dead, Rin Bopha and Rin Rachna, revealed in March that she had received $11,500 from Keampisith Manita’s family, while the father of the third child, Srim Bunhong, said he had received $10,000 for the death of his son.
Keam Pisith, deputy health director in Kandal province and the father of Keampisith Manita, claimed Wednesday that he had paid more than $40,000 in total to the families of his daughter’s victims.
Once released from prison in the next few days, Mr. Pisith said his daughter will take six months leave from university to undergo medical checkups, but will most likely return to become a doctor after that.
During her trial last week, Keampisith Manita put forward the defense that she had been in an unstable state of mind when she crashed her car—a malaise she put down to extreme study stress. She also submitted a doctor’s letter saying she suffered from a “growth on the brain.”
She asked the judge that, given these circumstances, she be released and allowed to return to university.
During the hearing, letters from the grieving families were also read out, saying they had received compensation and had therefore decided to drop their complaints.
Sreng Srim, 35, the father of 8-year-old Srim Bunhong, declined to comment on the result of the trial Wednesday.
“I don’t want to talk about this because it just reminds me my son is dead,” he said.
It is common practice in Cambodian courts for cases—including serious crimes—to be dropped in return for a guilty party paying cash to a victim.
Chan Soveth, deputy head of the monitoring section at rights group Adhoc, said that even though the perpetrator had paid compensation to the victims’ families, the court was still obliged to use the full weight of the law in issuing a sentence.
“The accused persons must be condemned in line with the law whether they paid compensation or not. The compensation cannot hide their guilt,” he said.