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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Slashing victim doubts justice done

Slashing victim doubts justice done

On August 17 in Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Lao Chamrong, 15, confessed

to the horrific, late-night knife attack in February 2006, that left Briton David

Mitchell dead and his companion, New Zealander Jane Nye, right, with physical

scars and psychological trauma.

Chamrong was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but his conviction

has not closed this tragic chapter of Nye's life. Instead, she is plagued with doubt,

and a nagging sense that the right person may not be behind bars.
Nye spoke with Cat Barton about the courtroom,

her conscience and the grisly details of the killing.

What was your impression of Lao Chamrong's trial?

The courtroom was the first time I have spoken to the Cambodian authorities since

it all happened in February. It was only on the actual day of the trial that they

asked me to describe what happened the night of the attack. I was not asked to identify

the suspect. I was left feeling that my testimony was simply a formality. Then as

I sat and listened to Chamrong give his statement, I was struck by the fact that

a lot of what he said was not true. As the crime was committed against foreigners

it strikes me that the law enforcement agencies want to provide swift justice. I

am concerned they have provided the appearance of justice, not actual justice.

What do you remember about the attack and the police response?

It was a very vicious attack. What has stuck in my mind is why would a guy looking

for food [Chamrong's explanation for being on the property] do this? He was behind

me, and although I didn't get a look at him, he was very strong. I was held firmly

from behind, but the kid I saw in the dock didn't look strong enough to hold me.

I definitely startled an intruder and then Dave came running out to help me but beyond

that I don't know why this happened. It is an unfathomable thing. But the Cambodian

police seem to have fathomed it very quickly - they found the guy the same night,

it was done so fast. The way he was found sounds peculiar [Chamrong was apprehended

washing blood from himself outside the National Museum] I have heard conflicting

reports regarding where the weapon was found. Everything has been so inadequate:

the police not speaking to me, the prosecutor not getting in touch.

What are your reservations about Lao Chamrong's conviction?

I genuinely believe it may have been a forced confession. Because it was a case involving

foreigners the Cambodian authorities needed to clear it up very quickly. I think

there may be a certain degree of paranoia regarding tourism: the Cambodian police

solve crimes involving foreigners very quickly to combat the negative image it could

otherwise create of Cambodia as a tourist destination.

Describe your feelings about the jail term.

It saddens me. If this isn't the right guy justice will not have been done. He might

have done it, but he might not have. Under the French system you only need a confession

to prove guilt and they have that so he is guilty - it is that cut and dried. My

biggest concern is that the police in this country don't have the means to create

a proper crime scene: they can't do DNA tests, they can't take blood samples, and

these things need to be done immediately so you can make sure you catch the right

person. Now how are we ever going to know if this is definitely the killer? It was

mishandled from the beginning. It could be this guy, but then it could not be, and

when there is any element of doubt it doesn't seem fair to lock a 15-year-old up

for 20 years.

What are your thoughts now that the trial has concluded?

I have nagging doubts about the case. The idea of the real killer being free has

crossed my mind. The police investigation was woefully inadequate. The discrepancies

between Chamrong's account and my recollections indicate to me he made a forced confession.

I felt that my statement was barely taken into consideration, that he was "guilty"

from the beginning. They had found their culprit and they were going to pin the crime

on him.

Will you challenge the court's ruling?

I honestly don't have the strength to fight for him. I have strength for myself but

I can't fight for truth alone. I would love to feel certain that justice had been

done - particularly for Dave's family - but one woman against all that... it's a

tall order.



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