A Phnom Penh police officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday for fatally shooting three men, one of whom was a vilage chief, over a dispute about the cost of street lights.
Keo Sovannarith, 27, a second lieutenant at the Ministry of Interior’s public order department, was found guilty of murdering Chuk Lay, 62, chief of Village 4 in Tuol Svay Prey I commune, as well as his son Bun Loeun, 18, and nephew Bun Rithy, 30, with an AK rifle in December, while he was off duty.
Despite the verdict and sentence, Sovannarith will continue to hold the rank of police officer – with his police ID and a permit for gun ownership intact – until he exhausts his appeal options, according to Sek Phoumy, director of the central department of public order.
The murder weapon, however, will be returned to the state.
On December 16 , Chuk Lay, his son and nephew approached Sovannarith and his brother, Sovannara, asking for $50 from each family to install street lights in the capital’s Chamkarmon district.
Sovannarith reportedly refused the sum, instead offering half that amount. The quarrel flared up when Lay’s son and nephew armed themselves with samurai swords and attacked the brothers, slicing Sovannarith on the head, shoulder, back and hand.
Sovannarith then opened fire on the trio, killing Lay instantly. His son and nephew died from their injuries in hospital.
Mak Bunna, the defendant’s lawyer, said the 10-year jail term was not a just result for his client.
“He was defending himself. It is normal to defend ourselves; if he gave in to the other side, they would have killed him,” Bunna said.
The relatives of the deceased had withdrawn their complaint against the perpetrator, but prosecutor Hor Lina continued with the case, saying the rifle used for self-defence was not proportionate to the swords.