The Phnom Penh Municipal Court heard the case of former Takeo provincial governor Lay Vannak and his brother, former provincial deputy police chief Lay Narith, for the sixth time on Thursday, with the pair accused of being involved in the killing of Vannak’s mistress Chev Sovathana on January 26, 2016.
A medical expert who specialises in the examination of corpses told the court that marks on Sovathana’s body did not indicate murder.
The hearing was presided over by Judge Ham Mengse, while prosecutor Plang Sophal was present along with the two suspects and two of Vannak’s drivers, Men Sakmay and Choem Vuth.
Witness Uk Channa, the owner of Vannak’s rented home, told the court she was not aware of Sovathana’s death at the time.
She said she did not see her body and only found out later when her husband informed her.
“The window frame and cable that Sovathana used to hang herself are very strong. They wouldn’t have broken – they were very strong. I was only made aware that she was Vannak’s mistress after she died,” Channa said.
Another witness, Vannak’s wife, Sou Socheata, told the court that she and Vannak have three children. She said when she found out Vannak had a mistress, she told him to choose between the two.
Socheata then grabbed Vannak’s gun, she said, and pointed it against her head because she was so angry.
“On the night of the 26th, my husband returned to Phnom Penh and told me that Chev Sovathana had died. After that, he returned to Takeo province. Besides that, I know nothing else,” Socheata said.
The court was told that the Ministry of Interior issued a report three months after Sovathana’s death indicating that there were irregularities at the crime scene.
A police officer said at the hearing: “I have no reason to change my previous report because I noticed that something was irregular at the crime scene.”
But Meas Ten, head of Takeo provincial police’s Technological Science Office, told the court he had examined Sovathana’s body on the night of the incident.
He said the victim had been holding the cable underneath her chin with one hand while still conscious, and another hand grasping hold of the window frame.
“So the victim’s hands were gripping which is characteristic of hanging,” Ten said.
Dr Nong Sovannroth, who works at a Phnom Penh hospital and has examined more than 300 corpses, said at the court hearing that he was not in a position to agree with either the Takeo provincial police nor the Ministry of Interior’s experts, because he did not see the body at the crime scene.
However, he said that in general, the marks on a corpse can indicate whether someone has been murdered or committed suicide.
Sovannroth said the presence of redness on the skin indicates that oxygen has rushed to the face and, when someone hangs themselves, their nose runs, saliva comes out of their mouth and their hands grip.
“About 80 per cent of dead bodies who have hanged themselves have a runny nose, and Chev Sovathana’s body had a runny nose."
“When a person is murdered, their fingertips and toes are almost purple, due to the lack of oxygen in the bloodstream,” he said.
Judge Mengse said the next court hearing would be held on July 11 when further evidence would be heard from medical experts and all remaining witnesses.