A Cambodian man charged with the double murder of a Dutch national and her baby daughter at their rented Phnom Penh home in April has been found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Chea Pin, 35, escaped a possible sentence of 15 years, the maximum allowed under the Cambodian Penal Code for the charge of murder without aggravating circumstances, a charge one legal expert said fell closer to the concept of voluntary manslaughter.
Nou Veasna, presiding judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said Pin, who was known by several other names, was convicted based on strong evidence and confessions he gave while in custody.
“Based on the evidence and the confession of the accused, the court has found that he is guilty,” Veasna said as he read the verdict.
“Therefore, the court has decided to convict him and sentence him to 13 years in prison,” he added.
Daphna Beerdsen, 31, was found stabbed to death on the morning of April 28, after Pin had scaled the wall in front of her home in Tonle Basaac commune, intending to steal a bicycle.
Beerdsen’s 19-month-old daughter, Dana, lay nearby, clinging to life with critical head injuries.
Seng Singheng, lawyer for the prosecution, said at the court yesterday that the judge may have considered a plea from Pin during his trial for a reduced sentence, which the suspect said he deserved because he was uneducated, impoverished, and had been drinking heavily before the robbery.
“I did not intend to kill them. My purpose was only to steal her bicycle,” Pin claimed during his trial on December 3. “But when I entered her house and took her bicycle, she shouted loudly for help and it caught me by surprise.”
Beerdsen, who left behind her partner, 34-year-old Joris Oele, was pronounced dead at the scene of the crime. Dana was taken to hospital in Phnom Penh before being airlifted to Bangkok on April 29. After undergoing several surgeries aimed at relieving swelling on her brain, she died on May 7.
Both Beerdsen and Oele had worked for the United Nations in Cambodia. Sok Vanna, a program manager for UN Habitat who had worked with Oele, could not be reached.
Prior to the killings, Pin had only been out of jail for a little over two weeks, and said he had been drinking heavily the night before the deadly robbery.
During his trial, Pin requested special consideration from the judge and asked for a reduced sentence, telling the court that he was an orphan and had a drinking problem.
Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said yesterday that the charges under Article 199 of the Penal Code were closer to those of voluntary manslaughter than murder.
“It’s not as strong [as murder]. In Khmer it sounds like ‘murder’, but it’s more like voluntary manslaughter,” he said, adding that the judge may have considered Pin’s plea in not giving the maximum sentence.
Singheng, the prosecutor, said that while he welcomed a guilty verdict, he felt the sentence was too light and did not match the brutality of the crime.
“In this case, I think that if we consider the real reason that the victims were killed and the charges and sentence, the court’s decision was appropriate and could be accepted,” he said.
“But there were two victims killed in this case, so I do think that the punishment was quite light on him,” he added.
It was not immediately clear whether the family of the victims would appeal the sentence yesterday evening.
“I do not know whether the victims’ family will appeal [the decision] to the Appeals Court or not,” Singheng said.
Pin’s lawyer, Lay Nora, yesterday said that verdict was “appropriate” taking into account his past.
“I think that the court’s decision was right and appropriate for my client, because he was an orphan and a vagrant, and he is an uneducated person,” he said.
If the family of Beerdsen and Dana decide to lodge an appeal, they will have 30 days to do so.
James McCabe of the Child Protection Unit, which worked closely with the Cambodian police on the case, said yesterday that he would be in contact with the victims’ family in the coming days and could help support an appeal if one was called for.
“We are in contact with the family members and will be speaking to them in regards to an appeal process. If the family wishes to appeal, I will assist the family in appealing the sentence,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE