Victims' lawyers express disappointment as jail term is cut by more than half for American convicted of indecent acts with teenage girl
THE Phnom Penh Appeals Court has slashed the jail sentence of an American national convicted in April of engaging in indecent acts with a 13-year-old Vietnamese girl, citing a lack of evidence.
In a ruling Thursday, presiding Judge Thou Mony upheld the charge against Thomas Wayne Rapanos, 55, but reduced his jail term from two and a half years to one year, saying there was not enough evidence.
In the same ruling, the judge also dismissed charges that Rapanos had sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old Cambodian girl.
Rapanos was arrested when police raided his room at a Phnom Penh guesthouse on March 5, where he was found with the two girls. Keo Thea, deputy police chief at the anti-trafficking and juvenile unit, told AFP after the arrest that one of the girls was naked at the time of the raid.
In Thursday's appeal hearing, lawyers for the two girls wanted judges to charge Rapanos for having sex with the Cambodian girl, while Rapanos appealed to reduce the sentence handed down by the Municipal Court on April 17.
The girls' lawyer, Peng Maneth, provided by the French child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), said that the one-year sentence was the lowest possible for an indecent act.
"The victims are not so happy with the trial, but this is the judges' ruling," she said.
APLE director Samleang Seila said the organisation has followed Rapanos' whereabouts since November 2006, adding that he was glad that the perpetrator was being sentenced, but that judges should have considered more evidence in the case - including a claim the older girl had witnessed sexual penetration.
"We still congratulate the fact that he was sentenced, but we wanted the judges to consider evidence not only from the night of the arrest," he said.
The Appeals Court hearing was closed to the public to protect the underage victims' privacy after a joint request from both the lawyers of the victims and the perpetrator.