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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US man faces possible murder charge

US man faces possible murder charge

A US national in Preah Sihanouk province could face life in prison after a man he has been accused of severely beating died yesterday morning.

The Preah Sihanouk provincial prosecutor charged Jason Richard Barnett, 34, with intentional violence after Neang Sarin, 29, was sent to Kossamak Hospital in Phnom Penh on Saturday night. But the victim died just after 10am yesterday, Sarin’s sister, Khat Sary, 28, said.

“His bladder was broken and the skull has a big crack, so the hospital was unable to help him,” Sary said. “The foreigner said that he did not beat my brother, claiming that my brother stumbled and fell by himself.”

Jason Richard Bartnett poses for a police photo on Saturday after allegedly beating a restaurant waiter to death.
Jason Richard Bartnett poses for a police photo on Saturday after allegedly beating a restaurant waiter to death. Photo Supplied

A police source close to the case said yesterday that Barnett had confessed to the assault, and would now be charged with aggravated murder – which carries a penalty of 15 to 25 years imprisonment – and murder with the involvement of torture, which carries a life sentence. Deputy provincial prosecutor Huoth Vichet could not confirm the alleged confession.

Preah Sihanouk penalty office chief Nouv Savuth told the Post yesterday that police had contacted Sarin’s family, telling them to get an official death certificate from authorities and a record of his injuries from the hospital so that the department can send them to the provincial court.

Barnett met Sarin at the CBT 3 guesthouse’s restaurant, where Sarin worked as a waiter and Barnett frequently ate since his arrival in Cambodia in late October, said Sarin’s co-worker, 32-year-old Oeurn Chhoeurn. The two became friends, often going out together, Chhoeurn said.

“I do not know what their problem was,” Chhoeurn said yesterday. “Sarin is a gentle man and he has never been a troublemaker at our workplace.”

But the altercation appears to have stemmed from an alleged sexual assault involving Sarin and Barnett’s 10-year-old daughter.

According to James McCabe of the Child Protection Unit, Barnett had filed a complaint about the alleged incident earlier the same day in which Sarin sustained his injuries.

The police source close to the investigation said yesterday that Barnett, who is in Cambodia on a 12-month business visa, likely won’t receive bail due to the severity of the charges.

Public records show Barnett has lived in Waterford and Goodrich, Michigan, as well as Cape Coral, Florida.

The website of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in Fort Myers, Florida, shows that Barnett was arrested several times while living in Cape Coral, including for one count of misdemeanour battery.

A US Embassy spokesman said in an email yesterday that the embassy is aware of the arrest in Preah Sihanouk, but declined to comment further due to privacy concerns.

“We are aware of reports that a US citizen was detained in Sihanoukville,” spokesman Jay Raman said. “The Department of State takes its obligation to assist US citizens overseas seriously, and the US Embassy in Cambodia is providing consular assistance . . . Due to privacy considerations we have no further comment.”

Police will further investigate Sarin’s death before submitting evidence to the court, deputy provincial prosecutor Vichet said.

“We will ask police to prepare and submit death documents for the victim after a new examination of whether the victim died of injuries from the attack or another reason.”

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