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
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