A judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted a Spanish national of intentional murder yesterday and sentenced him to 10 years in jail, despite the court prosecutor and police having argued during the trial that the “victim” had not, in fact, been murdered.
Ricardo Blundell Perez, 40, was arrested on August 11 last year after police found the decomposing body of his British friend, John Peter Connell, at his rental house in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district.
Connell died on July 17 of a drug overdose and was not murdered, Police Lieutenant Loeuk Um, who examined the body, told the court during a hearing on November 28.
Perez claims he found Connell dead in his living room after leaving him at his home for a few hours following a drinking session. He admits to having hid the body for weeks in his apartment but said this was because he was scared of being either charged with murder or arrested for illegally living in Cambodia if he reported the body.
At the conclusion of the trial, deputy court prosecutor Um Sopheak had appealed to the judge to change the charge to “hiding a body”, because he did not believe murder had been committed.
The Post reported on November 29 that the murder charge had been dropped, but Sopheak explained yesterday that the judge had actually not heeded his advice.
Yesterday, judge Chuon Soreasy convicted Perez of intentional murder and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
“For this case, the court has considered that the accused, Blundell Perez Ricardo, was really involved in the death of the victim,” he said.
Soreasy added that he believed Perez was lying to the court in his explanation for why he did not report the body to police.
“The court has considered that the victim and the suspect were staying at the rental house together and drinking together before the victim was killed. If he was not the killer, he should have cooperated with the house owner, or other neighbours, or local people and reported the victim’s death to police.”
While he was escorted out of court yesterday, Perez said that he would appeal the “unjust” verdict.
“I recognise that I have illegally stayed in Cambodia and have packaged his body when I saw that he had died in my rental house’s room. But I did not kill him,” he said.
Perez said he would appeal the verdict next week.
His lawyers could not be reached for comment.
Sopheak, the prosecutor, said that no real evidence presented during the trial proved that Perez had committed murder.
“I saw like this, and so I asked the judge to change the charge,” he said.
“That was my suggestion to the judge, but whether the judge listens and acts or not on my suggestion . . . that is [the judge’s] decision and duty [to decide].”
Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent human rights lawyer, said that it was not uncommon in the Cambodian court system for judges to ignore the opinion of prosecutors, even when they suggest acquittal.
“It’s the problem with our legal system, the judge still has power,” he said.
“The concept of the prosecutor as the one who can initiate or who can file criminal complaints, that is wrong.”
Sam Oeun added, however, that Perez would have strong legal grounds for his appeal given the prosecutor’s stance.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH