A taxi driver forced at gunpoint to be the getaway driver for four armed robbers
has been set free after being held for six months in jail.
Sam Saroeun -
who prosecutors had charged with being an accessory to the robbery of a jewelry
shop near Psar Thmei (New Market) on Sept 21 last year-was found not guilty in a
Phnom Penh Municipal Court trial this week.
Judge Nub Sophon,
vice-president of the court, ruled that it was clear that Saroeun had acted
"Under the circumstances that he was threatened by the
bandits and could not escape, Sam Saroeun is now free. His car will be returned
to him," Sophon's Mar 21 judgment read.
After his release, Saroeun, a
39-year-old father of four, told the Post he felt relieved.
"I thought I
was a dead man during the past six months."
He said that Sept 21,
1994-the day he picked up five men in his taxi and took them to the jewelry
store-was "just not my day".
Earlier, Saroeun told his trial how one of
the men, who were armed, remained in his taxi with him while the other four went
inside the jewelry shop.
He said three of them came out-the fourth was
shot dead during the robbery-and got back into his car.
He said he knew they were armed, and he was terribly scared. He drove the
four bandits, with their stolen cash and gold, to Battambang as they ordered. He
said he plead for them not to kill him along the way.
Chiva, arguing to the court that Saroeun was part of the robbery conspiracy,
asked why the taxi driver had not pulled over at a security checkpoint to seek
Saroeun told the court: "I possessed no feeling in my body and I
did not know what was behind of my driving seat," in reference to being afraid
that a gun was being pointed at him.
The four robbers, Yean Yorn, 21,
Suy Savoeurn, 22, Saing Ren, 23 and Svay Run, 27, were convicted at the trial of
armed robbery and murder charges.
They were all sentenced to 17 years
The four, government soldiers based in Kampong Thom
province, joined their First Lieutenant Hov Khlei to commit the robbery.
The court was told that Nhek Phala, son of the jewelry store's owner,
died instantly from a shot fired from behind by Khlei while trying to stop the
thieves. Khlei was also shot dead in unclear circumstances.
robbers escaped but, along with the taxi driver, were arrested later that day in
Battambang by military police.
Sarin Sophea, Phala's 25-year-old widow
of two children, and her brother in law, Heng Sophoan, were also shot in the
Sophoan remains paralyzed in one leg.