A father-and-son duo faced a retrial Thursday at the Appeal Court for charges of premeditated murder of their neighbor after their prosecutor in a lower court sought harsher punishments against the pair.
Tep Sarou, 28, and his father Long Ry, 56, from the Kampong Trach district of Kampot province, were charged with murder more than two years ago after Ry was accused of using a heavy shovel to bludgeon victim Ley Pheng on the head three times, killing him on July 2, 2019.
Appeal Court presiding judge Yun Narong on Thursday summarized the court proceedings that led to an appeal. The judge said the Kampot Provincial Court last year on May 27 dropped the charge against Sarou and convicted Ry alone of murder, sentencing him to 17 years in prison and ordering him to pay compensation of 25 million riel, or about $6,250, to the plaintiff in the case.
However, Narong continued, the lower court’s prosecutor was not satisfied with this outcome and appealed the decision in the hopes that Ry would receive a longer sentence and that Sarou would be found guilty as well.
Under questioning by Narong, the father Ry told the court that before the 2019 killing, he had been drinking heavily with another man, finishing a liter of rice wine and six more cans of beer.
Ry said that at 4 p.m. that day, he had asked the victim Pheng to join in the drinking. But Pheng rebuffed the offer and drove away. Ry went back to his home about 5 p.m., and used the shovel in question to dig post holes for a fence in front of his house.
That was when Pheng drove by again, Ry said, at which time he again asked his neighbor to stop.
“I said stop, then he did not stop,” Ry told the court. “I said if you don’t stop, I will hit, then [Pheng] said do it.”
Ry admitted to hitting his neighbor with the shovel, killing him.
Judge Narong asked if the accused had ever argued with his neighbor before. He pointed out that Ry had previously testified both to being accused of practicing witchcraft and having survived a grenade attack, though he didn’t clearly link either to Pheng.
But Ry denied that he had ever clashed before with his neighbor, and admitted his actions had gone too far on the day of the killing.
His son, Sarou, said he was arrested on July 24, 2019. The younger man continually denied his involvement in the altercation, saying that on that day he had only visited his mother, who was sick.
The Appeal Court prosecutor pressed Sarou on that, saying that the court could only deliver justice if the accused spoke truthfully. The prosecutor then asked if Sarou was aware of the incident on the day it happened, to which the accused answered he was not.
The prosecutor drilled in on that point, stating that Sarou’s denial was different from his previous testimony that he had tried to stop his father from killing the victim.
Not only was Thursday’s testimony at odds with what Sarou had said before, according to the Appeal Court prosecutor, but there was also a witness who claimed to have seen Sarou join his father to beat the victim.
Sarou then urged the prosecutor to use the testimony he’d given to the lower court, that he’d tried to help the victim, but was sharply rebuked.
“Brother, this place is not a fish market where you have to bargain,” the prosecutor said.
The presiding judge continued to examine the question of Sarou’s testimony, saying that witness accounts provided different stories of the accused’s actions. Though one witness said Sarou had helped kill the victim, the judge said two other witnesses had denied that the accused had played a role.
In his concluding statements, the prosecutor admitted that witnesses gave opposing testimony and deferred to the judge to decide the outcome. The defense lawyer asked the judge to uphold the lower court decision and let Sarou go free.
The judge will announce the verdict on December 24.