kompong cham town – The Kompong Cham provincial court freed a village chief charged in the shooting death of a 16-year-old girl at the Chhup rubber plantation, handing him a two-year suspended sentence under a five-year probationary period for an unintentional killing.
The shooting of Khoun Dina drew the publicized concern of several human rights organizations and made its way to trial three weeks after arrest. Police officials stressed the case’s seriousness throughout the investigation.
But Tuesday’s trial took a curious turn once the accused, 27-year-old Ngoun Oun, gave his account of killing the girl who was collecting scrap latex with five of her friends on Aug 6.
“I saw about six children, and they ran away. I asked them to stop, but they did not. Then I shot a bullet into the air and another bullet into the ground. I had no intention of shooting her,” he said.
“Did you aim at her?” Judge Tith Sothy asked.
“No. I believe 100 percent that [the bullet] ricocheted and hit her,” Ngoun Oun replied.
Ngoun Oun went on to say that after realizing what he had done, he became terrified and fled to Phnom Penh that day.
Tith Sothy then devoted much of the remaining trial to questioning witnesses who saw Khoun Dina’s corpse about the second bullet’s entrance and exit wounds.
When Khoun Dina’s father, Chan Mony, took the stand, Tith Sothy asked him to unbutton his shirt and point out where the bullet had traveled through his daughter’s body.
A court official then produced a ruler to measure the distance between the two holes, as Chan Mony had determined them on his own frame.
“It was raining and I saw the wound from below [the back of] her left shoulder through her right breast,” Chan Mony said.
When Tith Sothy asked if he thought Ngoun Oun had purposely killed Khoun Dina, Chan Mony told of the village chief beating his other daughter two days before the killing. She, too, had been collecting latex, he said.
“After that, I went to meet [Ngoun Oun] and asked him why he hit my daughter. He grabbed my collar and asked for a gun from another man and wanted to shoot me. I believe that he intentionally shot at my daughter. And Khoun Dina never had quarrel with him,” Chan Mony said.
Then Tith Sothy summoned four other witnesses—Khoun Dina’s sister, brother-in-law and two neighbors—who had been collecting the scrap latex with her the day she died.
The four young witnesses had been told to wait outside. Tith Sothy called them in one by one and asked them to point to the places on their bodies where they recollected the bullet hitting Khoun Dina.
A court official, having found a tape measure, recorded the distances between the similarly remembered points.
Tith Sothy then scolded three rubber plantation officials, who said they remembered little from the day Khoun Dina died, for wasting the court’s time. It was raining, they said, and the thunder sounded like gunfire.
After a two-hour recess, Tith Sothy delivered his verdict.
“The court believes that the victim died by the second ricocheted bullet. That is why the point of penetration is lower than the exit point,” he said.
“If the second bullet came out of the gun without hitting something else and directly hit the victim, the entrance hole and exit hole would be of similar height and would not go from the left to the right,” he said.
Chan Mony said afterward that he is resigned to Tith Sothy’s ruling. “I do not want to appeal. This is the decision of the court.”
Chan Mony said he had been given $3,000 in compensation for his daughter’s life by a representative of Ngoun Oun named An Marady. He produced a receipt, which had also been read by a court official, to prove it.
“I asked for $1,500 more, because I am poor and need to build my house,” he said.
The court denied him additional compensation.
Saku Akmeemana, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, said Tuesday evening that her organization is “seriously concerned about the conduct of the trial.”