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Vannak murder hearing finishes

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Lay Vannak (right) was brought to the court yesterday. Heng Chivoan

Vannak murder hearing finishes

The murder trial of Lay Vannak and his ex-deputy police chief brother, Narith, involving the death of the former Takeo provincial governor’s mistress wrapped up in the capital on Monday.

Vannak and Narith are accused of murdering Chev Sovathana early last year, while Vannak’s driver and a house caretaker are charged with covering up evidence.

The two accused called on the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to find them not guilty, claiming Sovathana committed suicide.

The verdict will be announced next month.

Prosecutor Plang Sophal summed up after the four accused testified and the court heard evidence from Takeo provincial police officers and officials from the Ministry of Interior’s Scientific and Technical Police Department.

He said he believed the court would find the accused guilty.

Based on the testimonies of Choem Vuth, the driver, and Men Sakmay, the caretaker, Vannak and Narith killed Chev Sovathana, Sophal said.

The two claimed under questioning that Vannak and Narith killed Sovathana and then ordered them and Chan Ry, Vuth’s wife, to take Sovathana’s body and make it appear that she had hanged herself.

Regarding defence claims that Vuth’s and Sakmay’s confessions were made under intimidation, Sophal, replying to a question from the investigation judge, said both were accompanied by lawyers when interviewed. They stood by their statements at a preliminary hearing.

Sophal dismissed the evidence of Dr Nong Sovannroth regarding the different conditions of a body pointing to whether a person hanged themselves or were killed, as only a theory.

“However, according to the pictures of the victim’s body, her fists were not clutched.

Dr Nong Sovannroth works at a Phnom Penh hospital and has examined more than 300 corpses.

“I ask the court to deliberate on the charges based on the law,” Sophal said, concluding his summing up.

At the courtroom on Monday, Ny Chandy, Vannak’s defence lawyer, said the court charged Vannak because he had a relationship with the victim. Before the accident, on January 26, 2016, Chev Sovathana had dinner with Vannak at her house.

The couple argued, so Vannak got into his car and wanted to get away, but Sovathana grabbed him by the shirt and told him to get out of his car. The two talked until over 6pm, before Vannak left the victim’s house.

He said the police accused Vannak because he told Vuth and Sakmay to throw two of the victim’s phones into the lake. He said that does not mean his clients tried to cover up the evidence.

The phones, he claimed, contained pictures of Vannak and Chev Sovathana, and Vannak did not want the image to leak out to the press which will ruin his reputation. That’s why he told the duo to throw away the phones.

He said Sovathana passed away at about 7pm, but his client left the house around 6pm.

The lawyer said while the report by the Scientific and Technical Police Department was consistent with that of the provincial police, there were doubts in the murder case.

He cited Dr Sovannroth’s testimony that the victim had her fists clenched and had a running nose – a condition he said was typical of a suicide.

Dr Sovannroth explained during the trial that if the victim hanged herself, her fists would be clenched and she would have had a running nose, just like Chev Sovathana’s body.

“So I would like to ask the court to reconsider and release my client,” the lawyer said.

Tep Monycheat, Narith’s defence lawyer, said his client was not at the crime scene when the murder allegedly took place. He said Narith arrived late because he did not know the victim’s house.

“The prosecutor focused only on the incriminating evidence and ignored evidence proving my client’s innocence. I request the court to find my client not guilty,” Monycheat said.

Presiding judge Ham Mengse said the verdicts in the case will be announced on August 22.

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