The Supreme Court on May 18 overruled the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court of Appeal decision in a murder case which saw the accused receive a 10-year prison sentence, and ordered a retrial.
Judge Kong Srim read out the court’s decision in absentia of 30-year-old Suon Phin, who stands accused of killing his “girlfriend” on July 18, 2019, in Village III of Sihanoukville’s Commune III.
However, according to the appeal and corroborating witness statements, Phin had already left Preah Sihanouk for Phnom Penh on July 7, 2019 – well over a week prior to the alleged murder.
“The Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court and Court of Appeal based their verdicts on facts, but did not evaluate the competing witness statements from the prosecution and the defence in determining whether the accused is guilty,” said Judge Srim.
He added that the original charges were based on statements by witnesses who had seen a photo of the defendant on the victim’s phone and that the woman was seen with Phin before disappearing around July 10-11 that year.
“The Preah Sihanouk Appeal Court verdict dated September 22, 2021, was not legally correct, so we transfer this case back for a retrial,” he said.
At an earlier Supreme Court hearing on May 11, Phin told the judge that he was a construction worker in Sihanoukville and that he knew the 29-year-old woman, Chheurn Chanrath, through her sister.
He said he and Chanrath had fallen in love and planned to get engaged.
“But I left for Phnom Penh on July 7, 2019, for a construction job at the Borey Peng Huoth Boeung Snor [gated community]. Three months later, the Preah Sihanouk provincial police called me in for questioning and arrested me, but really – I did not kill her,” Phin said.
According to the case file, Phin was arrested on October 9, 2019. The provincial court then heard the case and delivered a guilty verdict dated October 13, 2020, sentencing him to 12 years’ imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay 40 million riel ($10,000) to the victim’s family.
The accused filed his grievance with the provincial Appeal Court, which reduced his sentence to 10 years on September 22, 2021, but did not overturn the lower court’s conviction.