A puzzling homicide case took a turn for the bizarre at the Appeal Court yesterday, when the man named as victim showed up to ask judges to withdraw the charges.
Kong Sithon, Chuon Sambath and Srun Sothy, of Koh Kong province’s Mondul Seima district, were convicted of murder in April 2013, about seven months after a body wrapped in a hammock was found in bush land about one kilometre from Sothy’s house in Bak Khlang commune’s Village II, according to police statements read to the court.
Though the corpse was bloated and unidentifiable, villagers noted it bore a resemblance to local fisherman Mak Chien, and called his mother, Thy Hieng, who returned from her home in Vietnam and filed a complaint, which led to their conviction.
However, the official story became difficult to follow when lawyer and International Bridges to Justice director Ouk Vandeth investigated the case and discovered Chien had been working as a fisherman in Thailand.
Chien, and his mother, yesterday stood next to the defendants and called for the charges to be dropped. Throughout the hearing, no information emerged as to the identity of the corpse.
Yesterday, Vandeth told the court the men were tortured and forced to confess, and now deny the charge.
The court heard that details of the crime were mostly taken from Sothy, who initially told police his co-accused, both fishermen, beat and stabbed to death a man, whom he had believed to be his co-defendant Sithon’s uncle – not Chien.
The attack, according to the now-impugned confession, occurred after the victim refused to pawn his phone for drugs after the group had been drinking on August 15, 2012.
Though Sothy was in court yesterday, judges did not let him verify his account because he allegedly had not appealed the verdict. Sothy claimed he had tried to appeal, but discovered the court had no record of it.
On his behalf, Vandeth said Sothy, who is disabled and unable to walk, had also been persuaded to confess by police, who promised he would go free.
Outside the courtroom, Sithon’s aunt, Chhim Lin, said no one in the village had reported a missing family member.
Yesterday, after the hearing, Chien recalled the surprise of his neighbours when he returned a month after his supposed murder. “They said ‘Oh, you’re still alive? We thought it was you.’”
Contacted yesterday, Nhem Dara, the former Mondul Seima district police chief who handled the case, said he was unaware of Chien’s return, but maintained that a knife and blood traces were found at Sothy’s house, where there was also a place set up for a hammock.
He insisted if the suspects did not kill Chien, they had killed someone else.
A verdict is due February 4.