Triple Murder Sentence Cut for Jailed Interior Ministry Official

A jailed Interior Ministry official who shot dead three assailants swinging samurai swords in Phnom Penh had his sentence reduced from 10 years to two on Wednesday after a judge ruled that the officer had fired his gun out of self-defense.

Appeal Court Judge Chay Chandaravan said that Keo Sovannarith, a 28-year-old second lieutenant in the ministry’s public order department, had killed a village chief, along with the chief’s son and grandson, in order to protect his life, but agreed that the use of a gun was not proportionate given he had been attacked by samurai swords.

“The self-defense is legal, but the defender used a gun, which is not proportionate to the victims’ weapons,” Judge Chandaravan said, citing an article in the Criminal Code on mitigating circumstances.

Chuk Lay, 62, the chief of Village 4 in Chamkar Mon district’s Tuol Svay Prey I commune, had stormed Mr. Sovannarith’s house in December 2015 brandishing a sword after the official had handed over just $25 collected from residents for street lamp repairs instead of the $50 he had requested, according to Mr. Sovannarith’s testimony at a previous court hearing.

After Mr. Sovannarith shot the chief twice in the leg, Chuk Lay’s 28-year-old son showed up with a sword of his own and was shot dead.

An 18-year-old grandson then arrived, picked up a fallen relative’s weapon and met the same fate, according to the testimony.

Mr. Sovannarith was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in June after lawyers and prosecutors put forward an almost identical debate over self-defense and whether the firing of a gun was justified in response to the threat of samurai swords.

After the initial sentencing, Mr. Sovannarith told a reporter that it was an “accidental matter.”

Bun Phearum, another son of the slain village chief, said on Wednesday that he was concerned Mr. Sovannarith could use the same claim of self-defense to commit the crime again in the future.

“He killed three people—how can he have a short term in jail? He should face a life sentence,” he said.

“He will commit the crime again, because he can claim he defended himself.”

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